Editor's note: Numerous attempts were made to contact people in the athletic department of William Jessup Univ., incuding athletic director Mitch Pleis and head cross-country coach Parker Daniells, by phone and email over the last week. All communication went unreturned.
I always knew I was different. Not only was I a loud-mouth kid - sometimes easy to get along with, and sometimes annoying - I was accepting of everyone. I loved making people laugh and seeing them smile. That always made me smile. Something was very different about me though, I just knew it.
That difference would end up costing me. Eight classes away from my four-year bachelor degree in English with a focus in journalism, my Christian university dismissed me for, I believe, being gay.
After struggling for years with my sexual identity, wrongfully being arrested and nearly killing myself, I had finally reached a place of self-acceptance and found a loving and supporting boyfriend who nurtured me. Then the school took away everything that I had worked so hard for.
It's been hard to recover emotionally since.
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Like I said, I've always known. In third grade, while all the boys were having their first girlfriend, I never considered it. In fact, I can remember coordinating weddings at recess, for those wanting to get "married." We picked a date and made invitations. I was coordinating weddings in the third grade! Could I have gotten any more stereotypical than that?
In seventh grade puberty hit, and I found myself attracted to the same sex. I didn't think anything of it. I figured it was just part of puberty. It wasn't.
Freshman year, the attraction was still there. I had to hide it: I had girlfriends, and I set it aside. Frustrations built up inside my head, but I just let them pass. I would pray every night, asking God to please make me straight.
After high school graduation I looked into private universities. I was offered a scholarship for cross-country and track at William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif., 20 miles northeast of Sacramento. I liked what I saw as I walked the campus on a tour and met with the athletic director. It seemed like a great university and I accepted a scholarship and ran for the Warriors.
I came out to my mother and sister on New Year's Eve of 2010. My mom didn't take things well. We didn't talk for six months after that, other than the one time she called me saying, "I hate you Anthony, you make me hate you. You're going to hell."
To hear those words from my very own mother hurt. I couldn't turn to my Christian university for help because I had become afraid of their judgment.
I turned to the only support structure I had: my partner, with whom I'd been in a long-distance relationship for almost two years. I was lost, living a double life: Happy with who I was as a person, but not happy with how people felt about who I really was. So I kept in the closet.
On one trip to see my partner, I was at wit's end. I ingested almost a whole bottle of muscle relaxers and Vicodin. The rest of that story is a blur to me. I woke up in the hospital 12 hours later, hoping to never wake up again. My partner at the time was holding my hand as he cried.
Somewhere in my head that moment was a turning point for me. I felt if death couldn't accept me, and my mom couldn't accept me, then it was time that I accepted my life.
Almost a year later, at the end of my junior year of college and after ending my long-distance relationship, I met Chris. Both of us were still in the closet, unsure of how to handle it. Nonetheless, we began dating. At that time, I was no longer living on campus, which (I thought) eliminated the restrictions of a Christian university. Soon Chris and I moved in together. This made things so much easier on me on so many levels. I had everything I ever needed, sleeping right next to me every night.
I wanted everyone to meet my wonderful guy. He would show up to every race I had for track. When he met my teammates I felt I had to introduce him as my "roommate." I felt horrible not being able to tell them who he really was, but Chris was really accepting of it.
A month after moving in with me, Chris came out to people in his life. Everyone was very accepting of him and of me. His family grew to like me, and I grew to like them. I had what I'd been lacking much of my adult life: support.
In May of 2013, I had the biggest race of my life: The Nationals marathon race for the NAIA in Marion, Ind. My coach and I flew out there three days before the race. I informed my coach that Chris would be joining us. He didn't seem surprised; That was reassuring.
Race day came, and I was as ready as I'd ever been. I was training every night on my own for this race, balancing two jobs and school. I would work one job in the morning, the other in the evening, have school in between, and train at midnight, every night. For almost two months, that was my daily schedule.
Chris was my inspiration and safety net. Every night he would lead with lights on his bike and pace my training runs. He made sure I was safe, on pace and healthy. Halfway through every training run he'd stop and hand me water or energy gels. He was awesome.
The NAIA race went off, and I ran...and ran...and ran for 26.2 miles. My coach and I mapped out certain miles where he, or Chris would meet me and refuel me with gels, salt, water, and any other source of support I needed.
Support - it's all I've ever needed or wanted. Chris was my emotional support; My coach was my physical support. Coach taught me what had to be done to achieve success not only in running, but also in many aspects of my life.
When I came to the 26th mile of the race, my body was done. I crossed the line and my body gave in, my legs gave out and I fell over. There came my support, to pick me back up again. I finished in 26th place, just five minutes slower than my goal. I was content, and my support was proud. That's all I needed to make me proud.
After the race, Chris told me that my coach had spoken with him and insisted that he was always there for me and wanted me to know that I could tell him anything. At that point, I was well aware that my coach knew what was going on. That was a great comfort to me.
That summer, on July 9, I can recall one time where my boyfriend and I had gotten into an argument. It was a rough time for the both of us. He had just lost his grandmother in May and I...was still closeted, frustrated, and was losing friends and family because of being gay. An argument broke out between the two of us about me coming out. I became furious and began yelling. He yelled back, and an argument erupted, a very heated argument.
Never did either of us become violent, other than the fact that we were loud. We live in a very private neighborhood, and this is not the norm. We were pretty loud. Police responded, nothing unusual. As they came to the door, both my boyfriend and I were separated and questioned. We were both asked what was going on, and if there was any physical abuse. We both insisted there was not. Both of the officers refused to take "no" as an answer and made my boyfriend remove his shirt (he his very white and pale compared to my dark complexion). He asked, "is this really necessary?" They then threatened us again. The officers examined every part of his body as I stood back and watched. He had one scratch on his elbow, and they said, "oh he scratched you, okay that's enough."
The officers approached me, threw me to the ground and told me to "stop resisting!" But I wasn't resisting. I had no reason to, other than the fact that I was thrown to the ground and being arrested for no reason. I was booked under three charges, resisting arrest, domestic violence, and corporal/spousal abuse. The DA somehow magically dropped the charges. This was the only "violence" Chris and I had experienced, and to be honest the first time either of us had faced any sexual orientation discrimination publicly - sadly by our very own justice system.
Chris called my coach and told him I had been arrested. I was in jail for almost a week before being released.
After this arrest, I began to come out to a select few on my cross-country team. Word got out that I was living with Chris and I had been arrested, and the school's acting dean of students called me in for a meeting on August 2. He informed me that by living with my boyfriend, I was breaking the student handbooks policies, which in the front reads, "This handbook serves as a guide for students in the community, and is NOT a contractual agreement."
"I know about your arrest," the interim dean said, "but that's not the only reason we're here. Do you enjoy attending William Jessup University?"
I answered yes.
"Would you like to continue your education here?" He asked.
I again said yes.
"It is a privilege to attend here, and you are privileged. But there are three things that are non-negotiable," he told me. "You must secure a new living arrangement, see a counselor, and miss out on your first cross-country race this season."
I was suddenly afraid of losing it all - my education, my sport, my relationship - for doing the one thing that ever felt right: coming out. In that fear I signed a contract that said I would abide by what he had told me as well as what had been stated in the meeting. I felt trapped with nowhere to turn.
When I showed my boyfriend the contract, he was livid. He encouraged me to appeal the contract; I was under duress when I signed it. I appealed, and the school set up a meeting with me where they explained that I was NOT being discriminated for my sexuality, but was solely being disciplined for my arrest, for which I was never found guilty. They outlined a new contract, which put me on a 60-day probation where I'd have to abide by the entire student handbook.
Three weeks later I received an email from the interim dean of students asking that I stop attending class and meet with him. I met with him the next day. There in front of me was a dismissal letter: "This serves as official notification of your dismissal from William Jessup University based on your behavior in violation of University expectations in regards to fighting or violent behavior and the subsequent violation of your student conduct contract dated August 16, 2013."
I turned to the interim dean of students. "How did I violate my student conduct contract, if my charges were dropped?"
"You hit your boyfriend," he said. "Parker and I both saw the black eye."
This was all like a joke to me. I took the letter, thanked him and walked out. I attempted to appeal the letter, to both the board of appeals and the president of the university. I provided more than enough evidence in my appeal supporting my case had been dropped, and even included a personal statement from my boyfriend himself, stating that I had not laid a hand on him, nor caused any black eye on him.
Their response wasn't surprising.
"The appeals committee has reviewed the documents you presented and considered the reports of the staff involved. The committee finds that the dismissal was based on breach of the contract you signed on August 16, 2013, including additional violations of the same section of the student handbook, and that insufficient new evidence was presented to reverse the decision. Therefore, the committee affirms the final dismissal."
I don't believe a word of it.
Just two months after coming out and only eight classes away from my four-year bachelor degree at William Jessup University, it was all taken away from me, for expressing who I am. I had been suppressed the entire time I attended William Jessup University, and even after being dismissed, I still am.
Not only was my education taken away from me, but also my social life. William Jessup University is the place I'd spent the last four years of my life. Other than Chris, William Jessup University is all I'd known. My social life and life long friendships were cut loose. I am no longer allowed on campus and have missed out on yet another season of cross-country, the one thing that has helped me keep peace with who I truly am inside.
While I accepted them for a university as I attended and ran cross-country, they refused to accept me for who I am and for the contributions I made. I have learned that just as much as who I am (including my sexual orientation) is not going to change, certain religious institutions like William Jessup University won't change in their acceptance of who I am.
You can find Villarreal on Twitter @an_toe_kneee.