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Sam Stanley: This is how I decided to come out

Sam Stanley, the gay professional rugby player who came out publicly last weekend, shares personal insights into his journey toward acceptance over the last year.

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Over the last couple years I've read a number of articles on other athletes who had taken the step of being true to themselves, including Michael SamDerrick GordonConner Mertens and others. As encouraging as it was to see, I was still struggling to come to terms with telling close friends and teammates, as I felt that I would be an outcast and not welcomed in a rugby environment as a gay man.

I was truly inspired by Gareth Thomas' story as he was the only rugby player at the time to be out, but then again he was someone who had achieved a lot in the game, captaining not only Wales but also the British & Irish Lions, which in the U.K. is the highest honor and the pinnacle of a rugby player's career. So again, as much as it was great to see the positive reaction he received, he was coming towards the end of his career, whereas I was just starting out.

I still wondered if I could really be a rugby player and also an out gay man at the same time. For me it seemed I had to be one or the other - they didn't go together.

Last summer I was connected with Ben Cohen, a World Cup winner with England in 2003 and founder of the StandUp Foundation that fights against bullying. He gave me a lot of advice on coming to terms with myself and possibly sharing it with others. He was great, but even he said he could give me as much advice as he could, but he's not a gay man himself. At the time I was still very much a closeted man and contemplating whether or not I just hide who I was for my whole career or to come out and face the consequences after.

This past February I had a sickening feeling - the fears of what people were going to think if I came out to them, and that every response was going to be negative. I felt like becoming the true me was something that was wrong. I had a long weekend in Sicily lined up to get away with my partner, Laurence, and I felt it the best time to get it off my chest once and for all. I sent a message to everyone I wanted to know first hand. The response was so encouraging and helped allay much of my fear.

I feel this last year has been a learning curve for me and opened up a whole new world I never imagined possible, especially while playing rugby professionally. It feels great to be able to walk down the street and go out with my other half, not being ashamed of who I am and not looking over my shoulder to make sure I never bumped into anyone I knew.

The whole transition was made very easy with the reaction of those closest to me and at the time I was part of the England Sevens. The group there was very tight and they really helped make the whole thing easy. They were there happy to talk about things and listen to anything I had to say. This secret I had kept hidden for years was finally out in the open and the reactions were nowhere near as bad as what I had imagined.

For anyone struggling to come to terms with themselves, from my experience over the last few years, I'd say to try and find the closest and most trustworthy friend you have and hopefully they are willing to help as much as my best friend helped me.

Editor: Cyd Zeigler