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Swimmer forced to confront himself after Catholic nun said he chose to be gay

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When swimmer Connor Griffin heard a nun say terrible things about gay people, he left his sport. Now he's returned and has found a home on the Fordham Univ. swim team.

Connor Griffin swims for Fordham Univ. in New York.
Connor Griffin swims for Fordham Univ. in New York.
Nathan Tibbetts

It started out as a normal Friday my junior year of high school. The dreaded sound of my 4:30am alarm woke me just enough to roll out of bed, walk down the stairs, grab a Pop-Tart and drive to practice. The only other cars on the street were those of my teammates all going to the same place: the pool.

The clock hit 5am and we took the plunge into the icy cold water, mindlessly completing the practice still half-asleep. Everything about the morning was normal. After practice my teammates and I all walked into the bagel place were they know us all by name, as we are always their first costumers on Monday and Friday mornings.

I looked forward to going to school that day.  I knew classes would be shortened due to the fact that we had a school-wide assembly to listen to a speaker. Little did I know that this speaker would force me to realize things about myself I was not ready to accept.

The school day started out with prayer over the loud speaker, just like every other day at my Catholic high school in Charlotte, N.C. Once morning announcements were made everyone made their way down to the gym. As I entered I saw a small, innocent-looking nun standing there with a huge sign that read, "Family Roles In the Catholic Church." My first thought: "Well, it's better than sitting in class."

My mind wandered in and out of the assembly as I found it hard to pay attention to what she is saying, still tired from my early alarm. When I started listening to what she was actually saying, it made my stomach cruel.

Being gay was completely a choice, she said, and no one was born that wayYou have decided to be a victim of your parents' abandonment and that is the reason you have made the conscious decision to be gay.

I felt as if the walls of the gym were closing in on me. I hoped no one noticed the look of complete defeat on my face. I sat there thinking to myself, "Have my parents abandoned me? Could I be gay?"

Yes. Yes, I could. It was in that moment, sitting in that assembly listening to that speaker, that I realized my own truth. I quietly got up from my seat, not to draw any attention, and walked out of the gym. I felt a rush of emotions hit me as if the gym was suffocating me.

I erupted in tears. What made me cry that day I still don't know. Maybe it was the fact that I believed what this woman was saying, or maybe it could have been the fear that I had after finally realizing that I am gay.

One of my best friends on the swim team was thankfully just walking into the gym as I stood there in tears. She grabbed me told me everything was OK. She reassured me that what this woman was trying to tell the student body was not true.

I never made it back into the gym. I went along with the rest of the school day hoping no one asked me any questions or noticed what had just taken place. The last bell at 2:30 could not come fast enough.

I somehow made it to practice, not wanting my sudden breakdown to get in the way of swimming. Seeing I was obviously shaken up, my coach pulled me aside. I didn't get one word out before breaking down yet again. He told me I can take the day off. I did.

The last thing I wanted to do was tell my parents what happened that day. I didn't attempt to do my homework and went straight to bed.

I had finally lost the battle against my emotions. In that moment, after years of fighting, they all rushed to the surface. The days that followed were some of the toughest days of my life. I still was not ready to accept being gay, but I was on the journey to get there.

As the days and weeks passed I became more accepting of myself. I told more friends and family. It became so empowering to share my truth with people in my life. I felt I was caged for so long, and every time I told someone I felt as if I was breaking a link in the chain that was holding me down. Once I told one person I would tell another. Every person had the same reaction: "Connor...we know." Ha ha.

When I finally mustered up the courage to let my mom my worst-kept secret, her immediate question was "Are you being safe about it?" She was already trying to give me a sex talk!

Even though I found acceptance in my friends and family, I had a new worry: Do I, a gay athlete, belong in the sports community? I finished my junior of high as a Scholastic All-American and had a pretty successful season to set myself up to be recruited by college program. Yet I wasn't sure I belonged in the swimming world beyond high school. I was more nervous about making others uncomfortable than making myself comfortable.

Because of this, I pretty much gave up my senior year in swimming. I was ready to move on and get out of the competitive world of sports. I had my deposit down for a school that doesn't have a mens swim team and was ready to embrace the NARP (non-athletic random person) life.

Something tugged at me. As my senior year went on, I grew more hesitant to give it all up. There was a nagging feeling that was telling me I would regret it if I didn't at least visit the idea of continuing swimming in college. I scheduled some recruiting trips in the spring of my senior year. As I visited the schools I realized these college teams were nothing what I thought they were going to be. I found myself noting these potential teammates could be some of my best friends in the future. Every single person I encountered welcomed me and made me feel like I was already a part of their team.

I also found that many of these teams already had gay athletes on them. I noticed how they interacted with each other. It was just so... normal. These strangers made me want to continue my swimming career with them with their open, accepting arms.

That's exactly what I found at Fordham, a Catholic University. I found that many people in the Catholic Church are very accepting and do not discriminate like the nun I encountered in high school. Just recently our president, Father Joseph M. McShane, made a statement in a school-wide message saying "I make no apologies for...homophobia, nor indeed any kind of bigotry nor act that devalues another person or group."

I also found that my teammates can be some of the most accepting and uplifting people. Not once have they made me feel out of place or like an outcast. They encourage me in and out of the pool, especially when they try to play wingman.

Yes, they have their beliefs on topics and I have mine, but never will my school tell me that I am wrong or ostracize me for disagreeing. They embrace my ideas with respect, and above all, they treat me with respect.

I also found that my teammates can be some of the most accepting and uplifting people. Not once have they made me feel out of place or like an outcast. They encourage me in and out of the pool, especially when they try to play wingman. They feel comfortable around me just like I feel comfortable around them. They see me just like everyone else, a teammate. They tell me to pick it up when maybe I wasn't feeling my best, just like they tell me good job when I had a good practice.

I have found my place in the sports community, not because I am gay, but because I am an athlete.

You can reach Connor Griffin via email at cgriffin20@fordham.edu. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter @ConnorSays_.