It was a monumental moment that might have gone unnoticed by the average curling fan, but meant the world to people who support inclusivity in sports.

Curlers John Epping (left) and Greg Smith hold a rainbow flag at the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary. Photo by Handout /Supplied photo
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It was a monumental moment that might have gone unnoticed by the average curling fan, but meant the world to people who support inclusivity in sports.
On Tuesday, Ontarios John Epping took on Newfoundlands Greg Smith in a preliminary-round game at the Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary.
It marked the first time that two skips, who are openly members of the LGBTQ community, faced one another in the Canadian mens curling championship.
Epping is openly gay and is married to Tom Shipton, while Smith identifies as bisexual.
Representation is so important, said Smith, a 24-year-old from St. Johns. I dont think people value how important that is. John is a great friend of mine and this is the first time I got to play him. Having two openly LGBTQ+ skips play against each other, at the highest level of any sport, is incredible.
Growing up I didnt think Id see people that reflected myself, who were open and proud about that, in sports.
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While Epping won that game, the score wasnt really all that important. After the game, the two skips posed with a pride flag in order to show the world the significance of what had just happened.
I just think it was a great moment in our sport to be playing against each other, two skips at a national championship, said Epping, a 37-year-old from Toronto.
I feel very fortunate to have somewhat of a platform through curling that Im able to help and promote inclusion. Even if it just helps one person, I think its great.
Epping was one of the first high-level curlers really, one of the first in any sport to come out as gay. He told his parents in 2011 and his curling teammates in 2012.
To his delight, everyone was supportive, and that has allowed him to become a role model for other gay athletes.
One hundred percent, he was an inspiration to me, Smith said. Seeing a top-level skip who is openly gay is huge. I always admired John and always looked up to him as a curler and as a role model. Hopefully both of us can now do the same. Hes a great guy, a great friend and its awesome having both of us here.
Dustin Kidby, who plays lead for Saskatchewans Matt Dunstone and is competing in the 2021 Brier, is also openly gay.
Epping, who curls with Ryan Fry, Mat Camm and Brent Laing, is one of the top skips in the world, though he has yet to break through and win a Brier. His team is seeded second for this years event in Calgary, thanks to their standing in the Canadian Team Ranking System last year, and had a 5-2 record after stunning previously unbeaten Kevin Koe (6-1) 9-3 on Wednesday night.
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Theres no question Epping wants to win hes as fierce a competitor as anyone but he also wants to show young people, whether they are athletes or not, that they dont have to hide who they are.
Why arent there more out professional athletes? Epping said. Were still a long way away from that in a lot of other sports, particularly pro sports.
Its really important that we promote inclusion, and we want to create safe spaces for people to play. I just cant stress how I still feel so lucky to be able to do well at curling and create somewhat of a platform to be able to help others.
If somebodys afraid to come out to their family or friends to tell them that theyre gay then I think that says enough about why we need to do this still. Why are we still afraid?
Theres obviously still some backlash whenever Epping talks on this subject.
When Smith and Epping posed together for that picture with a pride flag, and posted it on social media, there were negative reactions.
Epping said those come with the territory.
There are always gonna be questions about: Why do you need to take a picture like that, with a pride flag and basically announce that youre a gay athlete? he said. I guess the reason we have to do that is because people are still asking why were doing that.
We dont really pay attention to it, but of course there was some negative feedback. But the negative feedback was just crushed by all positivity and all the great people and our friends and family and our entourage that has our back.
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Smith, who works as a curling instructor in St. Johns, came out as bisexual when he was still a teenager. He said it was difficult to explain to his friends and family but hes always had a positive attitude about it and great support from the LGBTQ community.
Hes encouraged by the acceptance hes feeling in life and in curling.
We need more diversity in this sport but I think were moving in the right direction, Smith said. Weve come along by eons since I was a kid.
Theres a lot of gay and lesbian, bisexual curlers and its great to see. Young kids are gonna look up to some of us and say: Its great. Weve got people there, like ourselves, and we can connect with them and we can play at the same level as anybody. It doesnt matter who you are, where youre from, you can play and you can compete.
Manitoba (Gunnlaugson) 5-1
Wild Card 3 (Howard) 5-1
Northern Ontario (Jacobs) 5-2
Alberta (Bottcher) 4-2
New Brunswick (Grattan) 4-3
Wild Card 1 (McEwen) 2-4
B.C. (Laycock) 2-4
Northwest Territories (Skauge) 1-5
Yukon (Mikkelsen) 0-6
Wild Card 2 (Koe) 6-1
Ontario (Epping) 5-2
Saskatchewan (Dunstone) 5-2
Canada (Gushue) 5-2
Quebec (Fournier) 4-3
Nova Scotia (Murphy/McDonald) 4-3
Newfoundland (Smith) 2-6
P.E.I. (MacKenzie) 1-6
Nunavut (Mackey) 0-7
Canada 8, P.E.I. 4
Koe 9, Saskatchewan 2
Quebec 10, Ontario 7
Newfoundland 9, Nunavut 2
Northern Ontario 3, Manitoba 0
Alberta 9, McEwen 3
B.C. 10, Northwest Territories 5
Howard 7, New Brunswick 6 (EE)
Nova Scotia 14, Nunavut 1
Canada 11, Newfoundland 3
Saskatchewan 10, PEI 5
Ontario 9, Koe 3
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