While there are scores of “out” celebrities (Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen Page, Matt Bomer, etc), there are very few openly gay athletes. Why is this? From Stephen’s perspective, “Male athletes have to be strong and tough…I don’t want anyone to think of me as weak.”
Desiree faces a different concern. As a cheerleader, she has to get physical with her teammates, and though there are openly gay men on her squad, she fears that that her female teammates won’t want her – a lesbian – touching them, because it might be ‘inappropriate.’
However, Desiree ultimately decides that she is tired of faking being straight, and though she may risk losing the trust of her teammates, coming out is way more important than anything else.
Stephen is in a similar predicament. When he first started rowing a few years ago, one of his teammates randomly ‘outted’ him, calling him gay in front of the rest of the team. Embarrassed, Stephen began rowing solo and retreated socially so he could avoid confrontation with his male teammates. While he has female friends, and still goes out and tries to “fake it,” he is getting to a point where he can no longer keep pretending.
Both of these young athletes are extremely brave for what they do next.
Desiree joins her mother and another family member for lunch one day, and decides that it is the right moment to tell them that the person they assume is her mysterious boyfriend is actually a girl named Kim. Shocked, her mother doesn’t believe it at first, repeating over and over, “Tim? Your boyfriend’s name is Tim?” Desiree clears up the misunderstanding, and then begins to endure a stream of questions from her mother – questions that Desiree no doubt thought about herself long before coming out.
“Is this a phase?”
“What about when you go to church?”
“Will they kick you off the cheerleading squad?”
Desiree assures her mother that no, it’s not a phase, and that cheerleading and the squad have nothing to do with being gay.
Stephen eventually comes out too. First, to a fellow teammate he felt safe confiding in, and then to his family, who seemed to have an awareness about his sexuality since he was a kid. Freed from his secret, Stephen begins a new job where he is out to all his coworkers, and even begins dating someone.
Thanks to people like Stephen, Desiree, and Michael Sam, coming out, the landscape of athletics is changing and becoming more inclusive.
For more information on how you can fight bias, head to LookDifferent.org
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