I’ve always lived in small towns, from the time I was born until now. College towns are great. You get a real sense of community, surrounded by support for the school. I didn’t want to be noticeably different in ways that could possibly separate me from the community. In these places, I’ve never had many LGBT people around.
In my first 2 years of college, I had no doubt that I couldn’t be myself in a number of ways. There were some genuinely good people, and I surrounded myself with them. But the overwhelming majority made me feel uncomfortable, maybe without even realizing it.
After witnessing and hearing about the way they treated gay people, I was nervous. The level of social anxiety that I felt trying to be friends with people who may not have accepted me for who I am hit me hard. If I came out, I didn’t know if they would still support me, much less get involved and try to make me feel like I had a safer space.
When an LGBT person would attempt to be kind or make conversation, some of the people I cared about would say that person was out of bounds. They assumed they were acting inappropriately, and coming on to them. I went out of my way on a daily basis to be good to the people I cared about. It made me happy. But I had a feeling that part of myself would be viewed as gross or spun in a negative way.
After transferring, I had a very different experience. I was the only lesbian on the team, but there wasn’t a single person who made me feel unsafe or unwelcome. Coming out was more than just okay. They made me feel like differences are actually good qualities, not just something that sets us apart. People in the athletic department that I hadn’t even met yet reached out to express support after I shared my story on Outsports.
As time has gone by, straight allies have done things that have changed my life. 3 of my good friends walked around wearing Be True shirts to practice and school. My team, the Arizona football team, the 12 & under kids from Bolles, FSU swimming, and others posted photos with “No Hate” signs on social media. Braden Keith, who brought me into Swimswam, posted the photos though social media, and it reached thousands of people.
Friends have shared my stories and helped me reach others who can identify with them. A friend’s parent reached out to seek resources for a family whose kid had just come out. After the marriage equality ruling, a swimmer from across the country was the first person to send me a message saying how happy they were. My cousin was immediately talking to me about LGBT issues outside of marriage.
Not a single one of these people identified as LGBT, but they still cared enough to stand up for equality, regardless of what others might think. Before I got connected with GO! Athletes, it was allies who kept me going and feeling like I had a right to be who I am.
Being LGBT can make people feel isolated sometimes. It’s hard to be in a place where you don’t have a group of people that understand you or face the same challenges. Knowing that you have people who want to understand and will be there for you makes a huge difference.
My life wouldn’t be the same without GO! Athletes and people from the Nike LGBT Sports Summit. But I definitely wouldn’t be who I am without allies who have helped me along the way. That’s why I don’t mind being one of a kind. People learn from me, and I learn from them. Making change is a collective effort from all kinds of people, something I’m proud to be a part of.