It’s not every day that a friend comes along and changes your life. But for Mia Brown’s friends, that’s exactly the type of influence she’s had.
“After they’ve kind of found their way and found who they are … they’ve come back to me and said, ‘You actually helped me so much. Thank you for that,'” Brown said. “And that means a lot.”
A rising fifth-year communications major and forward on Northeastern’s women’s hockey team, Brown has taken on multiple leadership roles at the university. This Pride Month, she’s being recognized for another type of leadership—her advocacy as a member of the LGBTQ community.
Long before she became an advocate herself, though, Brown looked up to others as she grew up and pursued her career in hockey.
Brown comes from Woodstock, Vermont, a “little tourist town” near Dartmouth College that attracts visitors who want to see the changing leaves each fall. Her family is athletic, but not in hockey: Downhill skiing was the chosen family sport, and her mother once competed on the U.S. national team.
“And then we moved towns, and they had a rink,” she said. She tried hockey and, for a while, played while also participating in skiing.
When Brown was 10 years old, it stopped being feasible for her to go straight from a downhill ski race to a hockey game, so she was forced to choose between her two winter sports.
“I chose hockey,” she said, “because I wanted to be on a team.”
Before she knew it, schools were recruiting Brown to play hockey. She decided to go with Northeastern in part because it was in a city, and she wanted a change from the environment in which she grew up.
Growing up, she looked up to her cousins, who were also athletes, but the players on the U.S. women’s national soccer team have a special place in her heart as well.
“They’re doing so much for equality that it’s kind of hard not to support them,” she said, referring in part to the team’s push for equal pay. Visible female athletes like Megan Rapinoe and Ashlyn Harris have paved the way for LGBTQ athletes, and, Brown said, this has had a trickle-down effect for athletes at all levels.
Now, she’s paying it forward, in part through an impactful article that was published on Northeastern’s athletics site. It all started one day earlier this month, when Brown was “down bad” with COVID-19. The illness kept her home from her internship in the marketing department at Northeastern Athletics, but she asked her supervisor how she could contribute while working remotely. They said she could write a Pride Month blog post, but it had to be completed that day.
“It took everything in me,” she said.
Brown was vulnerable in the article, writing about what Pride Month means for her as a queer person.
“Being a gay woman and an athlete is very empowering to me because it’s my true and authentic self,” she wrote. “My individuality is what sets me apart from the status quo and, instead of feeling shame for that, I am grateful.”
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, Brown said.
“I’ve had family members, friends, old teachers from high school, and people that work here texting me and emailing me about it,” she said.
But this isn’t a “coming out” moment for her—in fact, she said she didn’t really have one.
“I showed up here freshman year, and I wasn’t hidden or not obvious,” she said.
She doesn’t like the term “coming out,” noting that “not everyone has to come out.” Instead, being a member of the LGBTQ community should be something that’s increasingly normalized in society, she said.
Part of the reason Brown was able to be so open at Northeastern is because of the supportive atmosphere. She’s had to deal with jokes and microaggressions in the past, which is far from harmless, she said. But with her hockey team at Northeastern, she said, “There hasn’t been one second where I’ve felt othered, or felt like I didn’t belong or wasn’t accepted, which I’m very grateful for.”
Now, she serves as an informal mentor for friends and teammates who are working on self-discovery. What’s more, she said, those same friends have come to her later and told her that she helped them.
“That means a lot because without those people that had helped me when I was in their position, I wouldn’t be able to help those people who are following me now,” she said.
She sees her advocacy as being part of the greater goal of Pride Month—to normalize being a member of the LGBTQ community.
“I wish that Pride was a thing that could be celebrated all year round,” she said. “But having this designated time is good.”
It’s important, she said, to reflect on how far the U.S. has come with LGBTQ issues and how far it still has to go, and to have conversations and reflect. “Maybe someday it won’t [be important] because it will be so normalized,” she said.
Looking ahead, Brown plans to use her extra year of eligibility to continue as a forward on Northeastern’s women’s hockey team next winter. She’s excited to be an assistant captain for the team this year and to help lead a new group of freshmen after many teammates have graduated. After she leaves Northeastern, she may travel to Europe to play hockey.
Professionally, she plans to get a master’s in organizational leadership and will continue as an intern at Northeastern Athletics’ marketing department. Brown is excited about all the opportunities that will open up for her once she graduates.
Wherever she ends up, though, she’ll continue to be an inspiration for the next generation.
“We owe it to our younger generations to continue to pave the way,” she wrote, “and lay down the groundwork for them to feel comfortable in their own skin and in our society.”