kyle.kennery@gmail.com or on Twitter @ref_kennery.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF KYLE KENNERY

Substance Abuse, Mental Health and Kyle Kennery's Battle for Self-Acceptance


Kyle Kennery, 36, has been a National Lacrosse League referee since 2015 and an Ontario Hockey Assn. referee since 2009. He is also a child and youth counselor with Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services in Ontario province in Canada in addition to being an LGBTQ activist and educator. He can be reached by email at kyle.kennery@gmail.com or on Twitter @ref_kennery. This story, written by Kennery, is being published in partnership with OutSports.

I am proud to be writing this as a pansexual man.

I always thought that if a man liked men, he was gay, but the world is so much bigger than this binary lens. It is possible to be a 36-year-old father of two, National Lacrosse League referee, a guy who likes fashion, painting his nails, riding a Harley, winning at all costs and is attracted to men, women and transgender people.

In my mind, I am my perfect combination of jock and razzle-dazzle. I am OK if that is confusing to other people because it makes sense to me.

My journey has not been conventional. I grew up in the small Canadian town of Georgetown, Ontario, where I played competitive hockey and lacrosse with a similar group of guys from Tyke all the way through to Midget, and with some of them, junior lacrosse. Going to the grocery store as an adult was either a team, high school or childhood reunion.

To say that everyone knew one another would be an understatement, and therefore, word traveled around town fast, whether fact or fiction. In a town that sold more beer per capita than any other in the province, if you dressed differently, looked differently or loved differently, you were judged by many.

I grew up suppressing a lot of pain and shame, partly due to being sexually abused and partly by hiding my sexuality. I experienced two separate incidents of sexual abuse when I was 12, but I never told anyone out of fear of judgment and of appearing weak.

By 13, I had started drinking and acting out sexually. By 14, I had already figured out that I wasn’t straight but didn’t quite know where I fell on the spectrum. I grew up in an environment where being tough meant that you didn’t show or talk about your feelings.

Hockey and lacrosse became an outlet for a lot of my pain and likely saved me from an extremely sad childhood. It didn’t matter if I had a rough day at school — I had sports as an outlet. I was praised and rewarded for my physical play, whether it was making big hits as a defenseman in hockey or crushing players behind my net as a goalie in lacrosse.

I sadly admit that in order to fit in, I used homophobic slurs during sports, at school and in my neighborhood. I felt that had I stood up to the slurs, I would have been outed before I was ready.

For many years, I secretly beat myself up for using homophobic slurs just to fit in. I’ve always wondered how many other closeted people were hurt by my words. My childhood can be best described by this statement: “It was easier to be a class clown and angry jock than the ‘gay kid’ with a learning disability.”


“Hockey and lacrosse became an outlet for a lot of my pain and likely saved me from an extremely sad childhood.”


When junior lacrosse finished and I started focusing on my career as a child and youth counselor, I started to seek out other avenues for my pain management. Throughout elementary and high school, I had been experimenting with drugs and using alcohol every weekend as a form of escape. Little did I know that I was well on my way to some serious addiction issues.

As many other athletes can attest, there was a weird sense of pride on our teams of who could drink the most at parties. Passing out or getting sick meant you were weak, and “crushing pints with the boys” had esteem. I was always amazed by the people who would have only a few drinks; for me, it was always all or nothing. This culture supported my new form of pain management, which was alcohol.

After graduation, I did what I thought society wanted me to do — I got married and had kids. I continued to live my life as a straight man and was loved and supported by the most amazing woman, who is also the mother of my two beautiful kids. It is easy for anyone to look at that decision and make judgments while knowing I had built a foundation of lies.

The way I see it is that I am a proud father of two amazing kids, and that is the greatest byproduct I could have wished for. I came out to my ex-wife five years ago, and I can’t be more fortunate for her love and support throughout my journey.








Although I never used any substances during my duties as a referee, by 2018, my substance abuse had caught up to me, and my life had become unmanageable. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to make a career switch into sales, praying it was the solution. In fact, the autonomy only provided more time for substance use, which greatly impacted my mental health.

In October 2019, I was watching “Grey’s Anatomy” while in bed. I watched Karev take Jo Wilson to the psych ward and promise to love her no matter what and be there for her when she got out.

In that moment, I knew what needed to be done and that everything would be OK. On Oct. 21, 2019, I checked into a substance abuse treatment center and slowly learned to love the man in the mirror. The amazing staff at Bellwood Health Centre assisted me on rediscovering life, and I will forever be grateful for that entire community.

If pain led to substance abuse, then only love and acceptance would lead to sobriety. The love that I needed wasn’t from external validation but rather that which only I could give. This was my turning point, and this is why I am choosing to come out publicly now.

I started as a referee in lacrosse and hockey when I was 14 because it paid twice as much as McDonald’s, and it was way more fun. Over the years, my competitive drive started to push me in new directions and open doors. Refereeing was the purest escape I had ever been a part of. I didn’t have time to sink into my pain when I donned the stripes. My time was focused on reading the rule book, analyzing game tape and networking to create new development opportunities.




PHOTO COURTESY OF NLL


Officiating taught me a new level of resiliency that I applied to my closeted life. Although I made some bad calls, I always have strived to officiate a game to the highest standards of applying the rules in a fair and equitable manner. There is nothing like playing that role in the game, and knowing that I was always one solid game away from that feeling kept me coming back for more.

Officiating has a weird way of equalizing people because at the end of the day, the coaches, players and fans only care about the calls and the outcome.

The best refs are the ones who know where the “gray zone” lies. Without penalties, we would have mayhem and chaos, while calling everything “by the book” robs the players of opportunities and frustrates participants even more. My drive to find the perfect gray zone of penalties versus “let them play” led me to becoming a professional referee, and now I am coming out as a pansexual man, which can also be seen as its own gray zone.

I always wished that I had someone queer to look up to when I was a kid. We are openly talking about equality and changing the way we think and talk everyday but are not at the final destination yet.

Whether people in the league are on the LGBTQ spectrum and living the same fears I had or not, it is fair to assume that everyone knows someone who is LGBTQ. Coming out and being true to myself was all about me. Writing this story is about creating change and giving a voice to the million others out there just like me.

While I wasn’t trying to make this story about addiction, being in the closet as a pansexual athlete was a huge factor in my substance abuse.

We know that youth who identify as LGBTQ are at a higher risk for substance abuse, suicide attempts and suicide. I hope that someone reading this knows that it is possible to be a survivor of sexual abuse, 23 years of being closeted, alcohol and substance abuse as well as a suicide attempt.

I can’t tell you how much love and support I have been met with by family and friends, and I wish the same for everyone else struggling with the decision.

I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight that I have been sober since Oct. 21, 2019, and continue to rediscover all the beautiful things in life. This is the first time since I was 13 that I’ve gone longer than 30 days without substance. Sobriety isn’t easy, but it is possible.

My hope is that my story inspires others to be EXACTLY who they are.