ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Jon Kliment dreams of becoming the first openly gay play-by-play voice in the NHL. As the voice of the Elmira Enforcers and Pioneers for the past three years, he’s established himself as one of the region’s most recognizable voices in sports.
The road to finding that voice came with many twists and turns for Jon as he grappled with an inner question regarding who he was and who he could be.
At four months old Jon was adopted into a church-going, hockey family. His father took him to games and played in an adult league, sparking Jon’s passion for the sport.
But growing up in that atmosphere meant hearing things in the locker room that made Jon unconfortable.
“You walk in the locker room (and hear) ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘what a f**’ and all that stuff. That stuff’s offensive, that’s hurtful and hearing that all the time. Hearing that all the time was like, ‘God, I don’t know if I want to do this cause I can’t be this.'”
After talking to a co-worker for over a year about her experiences in the LGBTQ community, Jon came out to his parents at 18.
“You look at what was on TV (at the time) like ‘Ellen’ and ‘Will and Grace’ and people think it was just really easy, but it wasn’t.”
“I said, ‘I want to be happy but I know who I am’ and you accept one with the other and just do your best.”
Jon now lives with his husband of nearly 12 years and has found a home with the Elmira Enforcers and Pioneers.
“It was just such a great feeling to be able to just be who I was and not wonder ‘oh what if they find out, what if something happens.’ Just having someone accept you for who you are.”
Jon now brings his experiences and voice to school groups and junior sports teams to educate them on being gay in sports and helping those whose position he was once in.
“It’s not unusual, it’s not weird, it’s not different. It is what is beginning to be normal, kids are beginning to feel okay about this.”
Jon also works with You Can Play, an organization that “works to ensure the safety and inclusion for all who participate in sports, including LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans.”
Jon says there has been much progress in the sports industry when it comes to accepting LGBTQ individuals since he entered the sport. Teams are now using the Pride flag on their logos and more athletes, such as Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib, are coming out for the first time and becoming role models for those not ready to come out.
“To have a Pride Night, where you have an out LGBTQ broadcasters… it’s so important for me because I want to do it, it’s more important for me because I want to see every young kid, have somebody like that sort of be that role model for somebody to have. Somebody look at him and say, ‘I can do that,’ that’s what it’s all about.”
“And I think that’s what the key word for all of it is, is progress. We’re not done, but it’s getting there.”
18 News will share more stories for Pride Month and diversity during our 18 News Special Report “Strength in Diversity” during 18 News at 5:30 and 10 on Tuesday, June 29.