Braeden Lange is only 13 but he has had some amazing experiences in the past year.
"I can't believe I've been out for over a year now," Braeden says. "I didn't expect to be this happy a year ago, but it has gotten so much better and I'm excited for what is in store for me!"
Lange at one point was so sad over his sexuality that he considered suicide. Now he is openly gay, proud, happy and full of life. On May 29, the Philadelphia native will take part in the second version of the charity lacrosse game he inspired.
His life changed when he met Andrew Goldstein, an openly gay former pro lacrosse player. Their friendship led them to hold the first Courage Game last May at Penn Park in downtown Philadelphia. ESPN profiled Lange and Goldstein's relationship that led to the event.
The Courage Game's mission is to encourage and support gay youth, rebuke bullying, and promote wider education and awareness for LGBT equality. Many people came out in support last year and this year, the Lange family is expecting an even better turnout this year with added sponsorships and more awareness. As for Goldstein, he and Braeden are still very close.
"He's like my big brother, I still speak to him very regularly," Braeden says.
The Courage Game has also lead to the founding of the Courage Home, a shelter to get homeless LGBTQ youth off the streets and put them on a path to success. Approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and even though there is city support and centers open during the day, there are no overnight emergency shelters for LGBT youth. That is the need that the Lange family hopes to fill with the Courage Home. The home will be based in Philadelphia and is currently in development.
I connected with Braeden's story because it is very similar to mine. I came out very young because I stopped wanting to hide. I was trapped with a secret, and when I revealed the fact that I was gay to friends, it didn't make things better immediately. Things started getting better for me when I found Outsports.com. I found stories that I could relate to, and I didn't feel so alone, just like Braeden didn't feel alone when he met Goldstein.
Lacrosse isn't Braeden's only passion. "I'm a lax bro, but I also play football and soccer and basketball at my YMCA," Braeden says. I'm going to go out for the school's basketball team next year!"
Outside the sports world, Braeden and his family have done a lot in their community.
In March, Braeden and his family attended the first ever You Can Play Night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The themed night promoted a message against bullying and inclusivity of LGBT athletes. Several people were honored including Braeden and Philadelphia-born Brandon McManus of the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who started the Anti-Bully Squad in 2014. Braeden was named the "Strong Kid of the Game" and received autographs from Sixers point guard Ish Smith.
"Ish Smith is my favorite player, and he's a great guy, so getting an autograph from him was very special," Braeden said. "It was an incredible feeling."
The Sixers were the first to host such a game, and the Lange family hopes that the rest of the NBA can follow the Sixers' lead and host promotion nights like the You Can Play Night.
I have had so many incredible opportunities come my way since writing for Outsports last year, but interviewing Braeden and the Lange family is definitely one of my favorites. I learned so much from Braeden, someone whose maturity is well beyond his 13 years. Braeden and his family have done so much in the past year, and they will continue to do more.
The other lesson people should learn from Braeden and his family is not that coming out at a younger age equals a happier life. People should come out when they are ready, and Braeden happened to be ready when he was 12. However, the Lange family saw a chance to make a difference in their son's life and their community.
When they saw how sad Braeden was after he had first come out, they reached out to Andrew Goldstein. And when they saw a need for more awareness of LGBT equality and homelessness, they created The Courage Game, and subsequently, The Courage Home. The Lange family taught me that age and sexuality are meaningless when it comes to making a difference in the world. Anybody can be the change they wish to see in the world.
Jeremy Brener is a high school senior in Houston and an Outsports contributor. He will be attending the University of Central Florida this fall. He can be reached via email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@BrenerJeremy).
The Courage Game will be held May 29 in Philadelphia. Details here.