The most euphoric experiences of my life come when I am thriving around other gays. That isn’t a knock on my immediate family members, with whom I’ve shared many cherished memories. It also isn’t a knock on lifelong friends, who knew me back when I wore t-shirts under polos.
I came out so I could be my true self, whether I’m playing in my local flag football league or sharing details about my dating life on the radio. I have never felt better.
As we lead-up to National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, I am reflecting on my gay life, and how coming out was the best thing I ever did.
Over the last year at Outsports, we’ve published the coming-out stories of dozens of LGBTQ athletes. Most of them are high school and college athletes, taking the bold step of letting the world know about their sexual orientations and gender identities.
There is an overarching reason why they do it: visibility. Visible LGBTQ figures provide courage to other LGBTQ people.
And with more visibility, hearts and minds change.
Look no further than former Miami Hurricanes running back T.J. Callan, who says he was driven from team due to homophobic taunts and anti-gay attitudes among the coaching staff.
A breaking point came when he overheard the lone team staffer with whom he felt close voicing his displeasure with the film “Moonlight,” which centers around the life of a young Black gay man struggling to find his way.
“Everyone respected him, including me at the time, and he was just talking hate,” Callan told our Cyd Zeigler.
Throughout the entire time, Callan says he didn’t hear a single positive message about gay people from anybody, including teammates who he’s later found out have gay family members.
Callan told Zeigler he publicly came out to be part of the solution, and serve as that role model for other struggling LGBTQ athletes.
“The fact you feel so alone and so isolated, balancing all of these lies, I feel like if I’d seen someone talk about how to navigate this, it would have helped me,” he said.
Community comes with visibility, which is why University of Richmond basketball player Jaide Hinds-Clarke didn’t just come out: she started an affinity group for LGBTQ students of color and their allies on her campus.
“What can you do to kind of walk in your power?,” she told me. “That’s the verbiage I typically use. I feel like I’m able to walk in my power, so I should use my voice, and try to walk for people who aren’t able to do so yet. That’s been very important to me in navigating my own experience.”
For college hockey player Stephen Finkle, that moment of power came when he decided to hold a face-to-face meeting with the teammate who called him a gay slur in practice. The teammate expressed complete contrition.
Finkle used his visibility as an out gay man to change the behavior of his peer, and then to connect with some of his NHL heroes. Finkle told four NHL players about the story over Twitter direct message, including Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils, who connected him with Joe Altenau, an openly gay executive with the team.
Finkle found his LGBTQ hockey community.
Another gay hockey player, Brock Weston, fed up with gay slurs flying around the rink, decided to come out in a speech at a team meeting.
Benjamin Fredell had to quit hockey to find happiness, which he did, and now he’s dating the transgender girl whom one of his teammates once said should kill herself.
He says he came out to tell others in their position they’re not alone.
“You are not alone,” he writes. “And if someone asks if you are gay, just look at them coolly and say, “Yeah, so what?”
It is necessary to come out, because it can help provide somebody the courage to do the same. College hockey player Adam Fryer recalls meeting a college orientation leader named Ian who introduced himself as a “gay fraternity member.”
It showed Fryer it was OK to stand out on campus. When he came out to his hockey teammates, they accepted him with open arms.
Fryer says he thinks Ian’s influence on campus played a role.
“No one really reacted or made a face,” Fryer writes. “They all knew Ian, and thought of him as just a regular guy. They all were accepting and even encouraged me to be happy.”
Coming out can give someone confidence they didn’t know existed inside of them. College tennis player Caroline Mattise wound up organizing Monmouth University’s first-ever Pride Night — a far cry from her early undergrad years, when she suppressed any thoughts about her sexuality.
Mattise wound up dating one of her teammates.
“I hope that there are young athletes, and individuals of all interests, who can look up to people and know that there are people like them,” she writes. “Because sports are for all.”
Indeed they are. And with each out LGBTQ athlete, that message of inclusion gets louder.
As transgender equestrian rider Jay Robinson was coming out, he says he found solace in the barn, because “horses don’t understand concepts such as sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
There is a growing number of out trans athletes in sports. Every day, their public existence sends a message of strength and courage.
Robinson concludes his coming-out piece by writing he wants transgender people to “stop feeling inferior” to their cisgender counterparts.
His openness gave him the platform to send that powerful message to the masses.
There is strength in numbers. Olympic bobsledder Chris Kinney went through some really tough times, at one point falling victim to an anonymous bully in Japan who shamed him for his gay sex life.
He says the bullying made him feel isolated, and he fell back into religion, because he was searching for belonging. He was unable to trust friends, and felt alone in the world.
Fast-forward to the 2018 Games in South Korea. Kinney met an LGBTQ athlete who encouraged him to publicly come out, and serve as a possible inspiration to others who may be struggling like him.
After the competition finished, Kinney came out to his teammates, and felt elated.
“I no longer want to wear a mask and hope to be an inspiration for a young athlete hoping to achieve their Olympic dreams,” Kinney writes.
There is a domino effect to most of these stories. When one person comes out, and proudly announces themselves to the world, others follow.
We don’t wear our sexualities on our sleeves. It’s up to us to be loud.
And more importantly, be true.
Read all of our Coming Out stories here!