Gay college runner talks about his coming out and the need to not stay silent in Sochi

"It's not a flag we wave; it's the pride in the flag. It's not a word we say; it's the strength exhibited by using that word."

By Jose Estevez

High school tends to be a miserable time for people like me. I wish I could say high school was rough, but it wasn't. I was a standout athlete in cross-country and track and field. A gifted student, taking Advanced Placement courses and scoring high marks on placement exams. I was recruited by Boston College, an institution of both academic and athletic prowess. After two practices each day, I mustered the energy to finish homework and dinner before my exhaustion won over. There was no time to question a sexuality that to me, seemed so wrong.

My life took a major turn my freshman year of college. I saw everything I had worked for collapse right in front of my eyes. My collegiate opener saw my slowest time since sophomore year of high school, barely making it past the finish line. Then, a bone scan revealed two stress fractures in my right tibia. For the first time since I was 10, I wasn't running. I began hour-long sessions of aqua jogging in solitude as part of my recovery process.

It took maybe three weeks of that for me to realize I was gay.

For several weeks, I convinced myself that if I tried hard enough, I could be straight. I would talk to my roommates about the "hottest girls," dancing with many at parties. I tried everything. After three months of exhausting all my options, I realized it wasn't working and slowly began the process of coming out.

Coming out is something magical. Most people hate it. I know I sure did, but it's a test of character. Coming out is not an unveiling of one's sexuality, but an affirmation of self-identity. It made me realize who I was, rather than who I am. It was the comfort and reassurance from a high school friend and his cousin who had both come out that gave me the ability to say those three seemingly daunting words: "I am gay."

Over the course of three gruesome months, I told family, friends and even strangers. All were extremely receptive, except for my father, who threatened me, in front of my oldest sister and mother, to leave the house and take his own life because he felt dishonored and ashamed. I didn't speak to my father for three months. Feelings of extreme anguish and pain deteriorated my once lively spirit. With the acceptance and support of my track teammates, I survived this miserable time.

Now, I'm beginning my junior year at Boston College. In the past year-and-a-half of living as an openly gay male, I've worked with the Toronto Blue Jays and You Can Play, making the world of athletics a safer place to play. I am a Collegiate Ambassador for GO! Athletes, the first national network for LGBTQ Athletes. I am part of my university's Undergraduate Government Body as the Assistant Director of Programming for the LGBTQ Leadership Council. I plan on co-founding the first association for Hispanic and Latino gay men this semester at Boston College. As for the running, after a slew of injuries, my coach and I decided it was best to take some time off. Despite this break, I still consider myself an athlete.

Being an athlete is not a badge you wear. It is not a level you reach. It is not a record you hold. An athlete is the discipline you develop, the integrity you hold in the blood and sweat you work for, and the love for a game that tests your strength, courage and heart.

It is very much like being gay.

It's not a flag we wave; it's the pride in the flag. It's not a word we say; it's the strength exhibited by using that word. It's not the size of our community; it's the size of our hearts. If we let someone else define what being gay is, what our pride is, we have lost our integrity. We have lost our strength. We have lost our courage.

In six short months, several athletes of the LGBT community will compete in what is considered the most prestigious athletic event to exist, the Olympic Games. These athletes endured gruesome practices and sacrificed more than we will ever know. They have dedicated themselves for a chance to achieve greatness. They will also be in a country that has just passed major anti-gay laws. Many of our LGBT athletes face the possibility of harassment, intimidation, and even imprisonment for simply being who they are.

It seems as though coming out of the closet once isn't enough.

Many of us came out of the closet knowing there would be consequences. We would lose family members. Lose friends. Lose jobs. Live a life of much discrimination. A life of fear. But did we remain in the closet? Did we retreat and express ourselves only in places of comfort? No. We opened that door and prepared ourselves for the hell we knew was coming.

The message is simple: Russia and the International Olympic Committee want the LGBT community to go back in the closet and hide their identities. I say screw that, we are proud of who we are and we should remain who we are.

To the athletes competing in Sochi, show up with pride in yourself, pride in your country, and pride in the LGBT community. To the thousands of spectators, keep supporting those who need your support most. To our beloved allies, continue to resonate the strength and voice you have done for us in the past.

We have the opportunity to show Russia and the rest of the world the strength and love of our community at Sochi next year. We have a chance to show the Russian LGBT community that they are not forgotten. We will bring hope to a place where much does not exist for a very suppressed community. The IOC may not support us, but when has a governing body ever stopped us from accomplishing greatness? The LGBT community, as history shows, has relied on itself to overcome the injustices that have been presented upon it.

Life is one fabulous race. We train, make mistakes and tap unknown potential. We hit our peaks and our lows. We face barriers like homophobia and people like my father. We get injured with laws that deny and restrict us. In the end, whether we finished the race with a personal best, an all-time low or didn't even cross the finish line, we can say we started the race. These next six months will be the most important race for our LGBT athletes; we don't know how their race will finish; yet they all deserve to start. And that's why we'll be there cheering for them through the finish line.

Jose Estevez is a junior at Boston College where he has been a member of the university's track team and undergraduate government. He has done extensive work with the You Can Play Project and GO! Athletes in efforts to eliminate homophobia in sports. He can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter (@JoseEstevezbc).

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