When Michael Martin came out last December as an openly gay high school soccer player in West Virginia, his story went viral. It got 72,000 Facebook shares, his Instagram following grew from 200 to 20,000 and he got hundreds of messages from other teens. But one message that came upon his graduation this June showed the impact he had among adults.
It came in the form of a letter from Stephen Skinner, the only openly gay member of the West Virginia legislature:
Congratulations on your graduation. I want to recognize you for all of your athletic accomplishment while in High School, but most importantly, I want to express my admiration for your courage in coming out as a varsity athlete, I too lettered in high school, but coming out was unthinkable at the time. Even today, as the only openly gay member of the West Virginia legislature, I know and understand what it means to face scrutiny every day.
I want you to understand the importance of what you did for other kids. Like you admire Robbie Rogers, other kids (and adults) admire you. You have had and will continued to have the opportunity to change lives. I guarantee you that you have helped people you will never know. It is not unusual for me to have someone slip me a note, anonymously, thanking me for being open. I suspect the same is true for you.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if there is anything I can do for you.
All the best,
Stephen G. Skinner
Delegate, 67th District
It's a wonderful letter and shows the power of coming out. These stories always have a ripple effect of influencing other LGBT people who are struggling with the decision of how to deal with their sexuality. Michael, who is now the starting goalie as a freshman on his Wilson College soccer team in Pennsylvania, knows that first hand.
"So many closeted kids have emailed me and Instagramed me about coming out," he said. "They said I am an inspiration. I don't see myself as an inspiration, I am just doing what is right. My parents didn't realize how much I can impact someone's life. They are proud of me now. They are glad my college team accepts me and are 100% cool with everything."
Starting over at a new school meant Michael also had to come out again, but his team knew without him having to give a speech, thanks to social media. "Some of the guys found out via my Instagram over the summer but never said anything to me," he said. "Then one night, we were hanging in [a teammate's] dorm and someone said 'that's gay.' My teammate stood up and said 'Hey, man, don't say that. Mike's gay.' Then that's how they found out."
Michael's coach, Caleb Davis, found out his goalie was gay by reading his coming out story and was supportive. "It doesn't matter to me, man," Davis texted him. "I don't see people as straight, gay, black or white. I see the person inside. That's all I care about.
"I thought you were extremely brave for being public and open about it, so I knew that if you could handle doing something like that you could handle the pressure of college and college athletics with ease. I also thought that coming out publicly in a state like WV was very brave too just because of the stereotypes associated with WV. You are inspiring for others because they can look at you as an inspiration that they can play sports in college regardless of their sexual orientation."
Michael is continuing to have an impact on other LGBT athletes just by being himself and he will play all four years in college as an openly gay athlete. For example, over the weekend, he did a YouTube video about how he came to go to his high school homecoming dance with another guy.
>Michael Martin can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @martinofcompany. You can also check out his photography on Instagram (@wvnatureboy).