When Shippensburg Univ. track & field athlete Austin Shupp posted a coming-out Facebook message, he knew he had the support of some people in his life, but he wasn't sure of how everyone in his family and on his team would react.
His mom, Patty DeSousa, was quick to respond:
That was the tenor of all the responses to Shupp's coming-out Facebook post from every single person in his family, his friends and his teammates. The Shippensburg hurdler has already made a name for himself, recording the school record in the 60-meter hurdles as a freshman and earning five places in conference meets and three all-conference awards in his first couple of seasons.
The embrace by the members of his track team made all of it that much sweeter.
"It was such a huge relief," Shupp told Outsports. "I got so many messages from people at school, at home, and even people I've ran against saying the nicest things.
"My team is very accepting of it, it's such a safe environment. I had no negative reactions at all! It was reassuring to know that other people felt the same way and I always had people to turn to that had such great advice and helped me so much."
The Shippensburg track team had previously embraced its out gay star LeQuan Chapman.
The Facebook post that started it all for Shupp was an honest, powerful one:
I want you to think and reflect on how you knew me before today. I want you to think about how you have impacted my life or how I have impacted yours. I want you to think about the hellos we've had, which have always accompanied meaningful and engaging conversations. Conversations where I was hiding a portion of who I was, although those conversations were held with the genuine me, a detail was left out, me being different. Different scares people no matter how minor, but differences deserve to be celebrated.
I am gay.
I've been hiding it since I could remember and when I found my love for track and field, it made my difference seem to disappear. I felt normal on the track. I was fast, I was able to take my anger of having to hide myself out on the track. I was strong in the weight room and I was able to do things with my body that other people couldn't.
Working out was not only a passion, but until earlier this year, a way to cover up my secret. But the more I worked out, the stronger I became and with that strength, came attention. The attention scared me because it made me feel like I was wearing my secret on my forehead; a secret so small, yet so overwhelming that it made me start to forget all the other qualities I possessed.
My freshman year was tough; between the internal battle, the adjustments to new people, a new schedule, and a new team. In the end it all came together. In June, I flew to Oregon and met up with one of my teammates, and one of my best friends who happened to be there for a Nike Sports Coalition for LGBT athletes. I was able to accompany him, and that was the push I needed to get rid of my secret. In a short time, I learned to celebrate my difference, and to be the happy person I deserve to be.
Now, I want you to think about the same things I asked you to reflect on in the beginning of this letter. I want you to realize that my sexuality does not change who I am, it is just another piece of my puzzle. I'm not asking you to accept what I do, rather, accept me for who I am, and thousands of others like me are.
To the kid who might be reading this hiding the same secret, I've been in your shoes, where you feel like no one understands you. The fake smiles, the sleepless nights, and always asking yourself, "I wonder if this person will still like me if they knew." You don't have to do that, or feel that way. Reach out and educate yourself. I know in a small town it may feel like you are the only one, but that is not true. This little birthmark you posses does not define [sic] you! Be the athlete, the dreamer, the artist, the musician, or the scholar you want to be and pave the way for the next person.
Your friend, teammate, relation, coworker,
Congratulations to Austin for finding the strength to live his truth. And big thanks to the Shippensburg Univ. track and field team for all of the support you've shown your teammate.