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Gay Olympian shows there’s more than one way to come out

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Shawn Barber has taken a subdued approach.

15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 - Day Three
Shawn Barber after winning the 2015 world championship in the pole vault.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

World champion and Olympic pole vaulter Shawn Barber has shown there is more than one way to come out as gay.

Barber, who holds both U.S. and Canadian citizenship, announced on Facebook Monday morning in a brief post that he was “gay and proud.” And that’s been it.

Since his announcement, Barber has made no other comments. He did not acknowledge any of the 248 comments on the Facebook post and has not posted anything else there or on Twitter or Instagram. He has also not given an interview to any media outlet.

When we first saw the post, Cyd and I waited a bit before publishing something since the 54 words he wrote were the extent of it and we wanted confirmation. Cyd got the Canadian Olympic Committee to confirm Barber’s Facebook page wasn’t hacked. And his agent confirmed to a Canadian website that the post was made by Barber. The athlete has yet to respond to messages from Cyd or myself.

This reticence stands in contrast to the usual way for an LGBT athlete to come out. On Outsports we generally work with the athlete, coach or administrator on a detailed coming out story. Other athletes have gone to major mainstream media outlets to share their stories in great detail, in print, on radio and TV.

Barber has done none of these and that’s OK. He is certainly a big name in his sport — Barber is one of only 21 men to ever jump 6 meters. It’s a rarefied group and a big deal. His story has received international attention.

He won the 2015 world championships competing for Canada and hopes to defend his title this year. Barber vaults for the University of Akron and is set to compete in this week’s Drake Relays, always a spring highlight in track and field.

Perhaps Barber is shy and doesn’t want the attention of having to discuss his sexual orientation, especially with big meets coming up. Maybe he’s still embarrassed by the 2016 incident prior to the Olympics where he was suspended and then had the suspension overturned.

Or maybe Barber simply wanted the world to know he was gay, to show he was out and proud and have that be that. Visibility is the key and we now have an elite athlete who is showing you can be a champion and openly gay and the world won’t end. A person has the right to say as little or as much as they want about their orientation.

Shawn Barber may have only written 54 words:

Gay and proud! Thank you to my parents for being such a great support. I continue to grow as a person and have a great support group. My parents are my greatest support and have helped me through a lot recently. To my friends, you are always my friends and i love you too!

But these sparse words contain a great power and message and just writing them was more than enough.