When Gavin Studner, a tennis player at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, thought about coming out to his team, he was reluctant. Expecting a more welcoming environment than high school, Studner still heard the same gay slurs -- fag, homo, that's so gay,
But in time he screwed up the courage and the sophomore has had a successful coming out. He told the Allentown Morning Call that an interesting thing happened to those slurs: They stopped.
It helped that as word spread, he found that a lot of people had his back. Tennis team captain Brandon Goldstein said Studner was his friend before he found out he was gay, and he's his friend now.
"I respect his decision to come out," Goldstein said. "It doesn't change anything. He's a good person, he's a player. It doesn't matter. It shouldn't matter."
Studner said subtle changes took place among team members. The banter ceased. He said he can now joke with his teammates about being gay and they can poke back.
Studner's story is one we hear constantly -- the same people making gay slurs thinking they have no effect, feel chagrined and don't use them again once they have an openly gay teammate. It shows how words have power and how negative language keeps many LGBT athletes from coming out sooner than they would have hoped, or not at all.
Studner decided to tell his story after the school newspaper, The Lafayette, ran an article after Michael Sam came out in February, wondering if anyone on campus was an openly gay athlete. The paper interviewed soccer player Jesse Klug, who came out on Outsports last year and plays on a school in the same conference as Lafayette. Studner contacted the paper, which did a Q&A with him.
Studner: Yeah. It's hard to meet someone just through contact because it's hard to tell that someone's gay. There are closeted gay student-athletes at this school who have come to me and talked to me, but they want to remain closeted because of their teams, and I respect that. Do I wish that they would come out and support the gay community? Yeah, I do, because I feel more student athletes should show that, hey, I'm not afraid to be who I am. But if that's that who they want to be, I can't do anything about that.
How many athletes have come out to you?
Studner: At least two.
Do you know of any other open gay athletes on campus?
Studner: I don't know of any other openly gay athletes, no.
... Do the other students feel comfortable enough to come out?
Studner: I don't think there's enough momentum right now to sway them to come out. I don't think there's enough student-athletes right now to give them that push and make them feel comfortable.
Have you had anything negative directed towards you?
Studner: No, nothing. Otherwise, I'd get in their face. If I'm playing a match and somebody knows I'm gay and they're trying to get in my head and they say something at me, I will not be afraid to drop my racket and come to the net and say, "would you like to say that to my face?"
I would love to see Studner get in somebody's face over him being gay. The power of being out is the power to not have to take that kind of shit again.