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From 'mama's boy' to long jump champion: A college athlete finds himself and comes out to his team

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LeQuan Chapman grew up in a rough neighborhood where "words like 'faggot' and 'gay' were primary in describing all things bad." He discovered sports and became true to himself and is now out and proud.

LeQuan Chapman
LeQuan Chapman

I stared at the email, having re-read every word for about the 20th time, my palms sweating. I couldn't yet push the button that would send my secret to the inbox of 100 teammates on the Shippensburg University track and field team in Pennsylvania. My bedroom, normally cool, seemed to boil. My mind was completely jumbled. I recited the email time and time again as Christmas music blared from my downstairs dining room.

"What's up team, It's LeQuan Chapman here.

I hope that the break is going well for you all, and you're training hard in preparation for this upcoming season. I just wanted to let you all know that I am gay. In respect, as you are my new Track family, I wanted to make sure that you heard this from me and not in another way.

I don't want to feel like I'm hiding anything from you all. I truly hope this isn't an issue or a distraction for the team as a whole. I don't know how you feel about having a gay teammate, but I can assure you that, like you, I'm working very hard to better myself so that I can do my part in helping the team excel.

I believe in this team and the opportunity we have to do something great this year, far beyond a PSAC Championship. I hope the belief is just as strong amongst the rest you. I pray blessings for you and your families this break, and safe travels to your desired destinations. Train hard, and happy holidays!

Pride. Team. Tradition.
-LeQuan"


I had planned on telling my teammates shortly after arriving on campus this fall. But I kept putting it off. My boyfriend of eight months decided to abruptly end our relationship. My mother had been on the brink of eviction and I couldn’t do anything to help her. And to top it all off, my grandmother was in an acute state of depression because my father went to jail. Family is very important to her and it broke my heart to see her so upset during the holidays. Finally, I decided a mass email over winter break would be the simplest way to tell them the news.   

Let me first start by saying that I’ve lived a good life; Different, but good. Merriam-Webster’s No. 1 definition for the word "different" goes as follows – "not of the same kind: partly or totally unlike." For as long as I can remember, by this definition, not only my life, but I too, always felt "different" than the other boys my age. Sure, I was one of the faster, stronger, and overwhelmingly taller kids, but I didn’t want to play catch or basketball. I would have much rather done something less physical, like playing house or with Barbie dolls. Not only that, but even the way I walked, talked, and interacted seemed much more feminine than any of the other boys.

Countless nights I would cry myself to sleep, praying that I could be normal. My classmates would tease me at school; "mama’s boy" they called me, and they were right. I acted just as my mother did. And in my late childhood and early adolescence, I chose to believe that she was the reason why I was, in fact, different.

Trying to be 'just like them'

I grew up in a single-parent household in the poverty-stricken city of Reading, Pa. It was just me and my mother. We lived in an apartment complex called Jamestown Village. My father was not around, so my grandparents became that other solid base that I needed in my life. Yet, I always felt like something was not right, something was missing.

I soon started to wonder if my father’s absence was the reason that I was not like the rest of the boys. I became angry and I felt completely out of place. Fortunately, around the same time, I made a friend. He was my only guy friend in our neighborhood. He was the middle-child of his two brothers, and they soon became like brothers to me. As I spent time with them, I learned the stereotypical ways of a young man in my area.

If I wanted to fit in I had to like rap music, preferably Jay-Z. Words like "faggot" and "gay" were primary in describing all things bad. Tall T-shirts accompanied by baggy jeans became my weekly attire. A man was only as cool as his Nike Air Force sneakers; and his talent measured solely on how hard he could tackle on the football field or how awesome he was at "NBA Live." Aside from physical and material games, a man had to have "game" when it came to girls as well. If you could count the number of girlfriends you had on one hand, you were not a man. If you backed down from a fight, or could not properly defend yourself, you were not a man. If you didn’t steal, curse, or stay out late, you were not a man; and each and everyday, I tried as best as I could to become just like them.

This was, in part, due to the fact that I had to be a man at home. At this point I was now an older brother. However, it was just us three; me, my sister, and my mother. Around 14 years old, I started to play basketball for the first time, and I became pretty good. It meant the world to me that I could finally be one of the bros. I was apart of a team; I was one of them.

With this new-found confidence, I made strong efforts to ignore the fact that I felt different, but my ignorance did not last long. My anger eventually manifested. I became very disrespectful towards my mother and teachers. I began to struggle with depression, bulimia, and even thoughts of suicide.

I then moved with my grandparents for the start of my freshman year of high school. That year I joined the football, basketball, and track and field teams. I was also introduced to a church that one of my friends went to. There, I realized, I could also use my talents in music and dance. I became quickly involved with the choir, worship team, and dance team. I began to develop a faith of my own and was convinced that the way I felt was not only different, but wrong. With faith, I learned, I would have the power to overcome this feeling, or so I thought.

Feeling different

Throughout high school, I stayed true to this way of thinking. Although I knew I was different, I ignored how I felt in hopes that the feeling would eventually disappear, but it never did.

I have very few complaints about high school. Overall, I enjoyed myself very much so. I danced and sang in talent shows and musicals. I choreographed winter and spring choir concerts. I became Homecoming King, as well as lettering in three different sports, and earning All-State honors in two different events in track and field. However, I was only ever offering a part of who I was to the world.

My senior year of high school I dated one of my best friends; she was an awesome girl. I struggled with my sexuality far too much to make a serious commitment to her. It didn’t work out to say the least. Soon after, I came out to one of my best friends; But in a short amount of time, I quickly returned back to denial.

I continued to look to religion to fill my emptiness, and it worked for the most part. It worked so well that my freshman year of college I decided to give up track scholarship offers, to instead, enroll at Valley Forge Christian College (which didn’t have a track team). Continuously searching for a way to get rid of the pain I was feeling.

Quan2_medium
There, where I thought I would grow closer to God and eventually become a Worship Leader, I was more disconnected from my faith than any other time in my life. I was beginning to finally ACCEPT the fact that I was different and I struggled with the idea that I could not be who I was and still be of Christian faith. I was more confused than ever before. I just couldn’t understand how my Creator, who made me in His image, could deny me entrance into His Kingdom.

I asked myself this question time and time again, and after a while I got tired of asking questions. I came to the conclusion that the Lord was going to love me either way. I transferred to West Chester University for the start of my sophomore year and came out to a few more friends. I walked-on the track team even though I had not competed in almost two years. I started to feel happy again.

The following fall semester, I was named one of the captains of my team; And although it was a slow and steady process, by Christmas of my junior year of college, I had come out to my grandparents, a few other family members, and a majority of my closest friends. I was fortunate enough to get full acceptance from everyone I came out to. Not one person treated me any different. They all stated that I was the same person and that they would support me in anyway that they could. To say it was comforting would be the understatement of the year. It felt as if a 500-pound weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I could breath again.

Things picked up in that second semester. I became a Division II All-American in the long jump, and I continued to tell more and more friends. I was completely comfortable with who I was and didn’t think that anyone should accept me for anything less.

A fresh start

I have since transferred to a new school, Shippensburg University, for academic, athletic, and financial reason. Not only that, but to be completely honest, I left West Chester because of another important reason. Being the captain of that team, I felt as though I was an influential leader and was absolutely terrified of what my teammates would think if I told them I was gay. I feared that I would lose their respect and lose the leadership that I valued so much. I decided that it was better that I run away from the issue and start fresh at another institution.

Looking back on it, I know I should have handled it another way. I encourage anyone who is faced with the same situation I was in, to be stronger than I was, and to not run away from something that makes you happy.

With that being said, I have come out to a majority of my past teammates at West Chester as well as all of my current teammates at Shippensburg (via my email).

I got two responses from my Shippensburg teammates that really stood out:

LeQuan,

Welcome to the team and hope you are having a wonderful break!

I, personally, am a bit confused why you wrote this email... It doesn't affect me whether you are straight, gay, bisexual, or transgender. You are part of the team and family here at Ship now. As a senior on the team, I have found most (if not all) of the team to be kind, laid back, and accepting. I have many friends who are gay. It is neither an issue nor a distraction to me. It should not be a big deal.  It's not a big deal to me. It should not have to be announced or explained to people in an email.  (Though I appreciate your bravery and honesty!) Unfortunately, we live in a society where some members do not except differences.

If it happens to be a big deal to anyone-tell me--and I will gladly handle it.

Once again, welcome to the team.

LeQuan,

I am glad that you have the courage to come out like you are. It takes a real man to do that. As a Christian I feel as though being gay is wrong. But as a friend and family of this team and Gods people all I can do is pray that you change your ways. That does not mean that I will look at you in a different way or treat you any different. That just means that I want the best for you after life here on earth.

I just want you to know that you’re my brother and nothing will change between us. You are a hell of an athlete my man. I can't wait to compete along side you at the National meet representing our Ship Raiders.

Pride. Team. Tradition

Sincerely,
Your brother in Red, White and Blue
GO SHIP!


I wasn’t sure what to expect, being that I haven’t been apart of this team for too long, but I have received all supportive and encouraging responses. I also have come out to mother. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t a shock for her, but she took it as well as I could have imagined. She told me that it will definitely take her some time to get used to, but assured me I am her baby, and she loves me, and that will never change.

As far as track goes, I compete in both the long jump and triple jump. Overall, I love track and field because it gives each athlete an opportunity to express their character through sport. In my case, being a jumper gives me a chance to show my passion, hard work, humor, style, and personality before, during, and after I sprint down the runway.

There is no better feeling than landing into the soft, powder-like sand and knowing that I have jumped a personal best. It’s humbling to make connections with other athletes and know that they’ve worked just as hard as I have. I have much respect for all of them, but at the same time, one of the best things about my sport is the competition. I’m naturally very competitive, so I’m always up for a challenge. I never step onto a runway and think that I will lose, but I also understand that I will not always be the winner. It’s all about who’s going to show up on that particular day. The journey, to find out who will be champion, is always fun.

I normally don’t make specific goals because I don’t ever want to limit myself. However, if I am blessed with good health, and I work hard, the idea of being a Division II National Champion is well within my reach. Ultimately, I want to participate in the 2016 U.S Olympic Trials. That would give me an opportunity to compete for a spot on the 2016 U.S Olympic Team. It’s all about patience. I have a good amount of time and until then, I will have to make the best of it. I still have a long way to go. Until then, it’s one step at a time for me. With trust in my God, my coaches and athletic training staff, the support of my family, friends, team, and my work ethic, there is nothing I cannot do.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. My grandmother tells me every chance that she gets, "God don’t make no mistakes." I am who I am. You are who you are. You shouldn’t have to be anyone else. You have one life to live, and you should try your best to be as happy as you possibly can. Express yourself, don’t be afraid to say that you’re different because different isn’t bad. The world is slowly changing, but it’s not moving fast enough. It’s going to take courageous people to step up and say that there is nothing wrong with you and me. You can be that team captain. You can achieve All-America Honors. You can be that Olympic gold medalist and proudly stand on the podium and say that you’re gay.

You are no less a person than anyone else, and once you realize that, you’ll understand that you should have the very best. I'm not saying that the process won’t be hard, but anything worth having is worth fighting for. And if you need someone to turn to, know that you aren’t alone. There are people fighting very hard so that athletes don’t have to experience the pain that I went through. We can do this, but only together. It is time for us all to stand up and take back our lives. I believe in you all. Our potential is endless. Don’t wait another second, take back your life. You deserve it.

LeQuan Chapman, 22, is a junior at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and competes as a long and triple jumper on the track and field team. He is majoring in Communications Journalism, specializing in print, and is a proud member of the Greek Organization, Phi Sigma Kappa, Phi Theta Chapter. He can be reached via email at quanchapman@yahoo.com and you can connect with him on Twitter: twitter.com/@LeQuan_

Awards:
One-Time All-American (Long Jump)
Two-Time All-Region (Long Jump)
Three-Time All-Conference (Long Jump)
2012-2013 Male - Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Sportsmanship Award Winner