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Gay college volleyball player uses class project to come out publicly

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“I know that there are a lot of people out there that are struggling in silence.”

Felipe Oliveira at the 2016 Chicago Pride Parade.
Photo by Brent Mullins

Felipe Oliveira, a men’s volleyball player for Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, is typical of a type of gay athlete we are seeing more and more — comfortably out on campus and on his team but not yet ready to come out publicly. That changed this week as part of a class project.

Oliveira, a sophomore, is taking a Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies class, the first offered by the Catholic university, which competes athletically in the NAIA. The students in the class were assigned a project with the task of doing something to help the LGBT community.

With the help of classmates and fellow athletes Indira Colón (track and field), Scott Fabian (volleyball) and Bernabe Montes (soccer) — all who identify as straight — Oliveira decided to come out publicly to show that LGBT athletes are accepted on campus.

The result is a terrific 22-minute podcast the four did for their class project, where they explore Oliveira’s story and the state of LGBT athletes. It’s a creative and engaging way to do a class project. They sent me the audio file and I uploaded it to YouTube and it’s worth your while.

All four all well-spoken and hit all areas of the subject, including locker room showers and how Oliveira was accepted by his Cardinal Stritch teammates. You can listen here:

Oliveira has come a long way since he first emailed Outsports a year ago, telling us about his background in Brazil, his coming to the U.S. to study and his hopes to connect with other LGBT athletes. He was not out publicly and did not feel comfortable sharing his story at that time. He attended the Outsports Reunion last July in Chicago and fit right in. During the Olympics in his native Brazil, he wrote a column on being a gay athlete in that country using only his first name.

Via Facebook, I asked Oliveira about why he decided to use his class project to come out publicly.

How did the project come about?

We did this project because are members of a Catholic university and we were having the opportunity to speak up for the ones that might not feel ready to come out yet. We wanted to show them that they have a support system and that it is not a reason to be ashamed or feel scared.

I really hope we can make the difference in the LGBT community. It is a small project, but it was done with people who wanted to make the difference.

We had to do a final project for this class, and our professor Carol Hetzel said that our final project should be something that would help the LGBT+ community in some way.

We as athletes noticed how homophobia in sports has never been an issue discussed in our university. There are very few out athletes here, so we decided to open up this conversation and hopefully prevent our gay athletes from being victims of any kind of discrimination.

I personally have never been discriminated at my university. We wanted to make this podcast to show people who do not yet feel safe to come out that there is always someone that they can talk to and that there are a lot of good people here that are willing to help and accept them by who they really are. We wanted to make the difference in gay athletes’ lives in our university.

Class project members, clockwise from lower left, Indira Colón, Felipe Oliveira, Scott Fabian and Bernabe Montes.

Why did you decide to share your story as part of the project?

I was a volleyball player in Brazil for several years and I have seen how it is like to be both an out and a closeted player over there. I love my country, but homophobia in sports is still a conversation that is nor discussed as often as it should be. We don’t have a single and out proud gay soccer player over there, and I think this is something that proves how it can be really be scary and also dangerous to come out as gay in a country with such a masculine culture like Brazil.

I think I found acceptance when I told my [Stritch] teammates that I was gay and they were more supportive than I expected. So I decided to share a little bit of my story because I saw the effects that being proud of who you are can have on other people’s lives.

I am lucky to have been accepted by my teammates and for never having to deal with any kind of discrimination or harassment, but I know that there are a lot of people out there who are struggling in silence because they are afraid of what might happen if they came out as LGBT. I decided to share a little bit of my story as a way of showing that you can be gay and play a sport.

Your sexuality doesn’t affect the way you perform your role on the court. Me and millions of gay athletes around the world are here to prove that. So I hope it helps someone like the way Outsports coming out stories have helped me to have the confidence and acceptance that I have in myself today. I am grateful for them.

What has been your experience as an openly gay student-athlete on campus?

I am me. I finally can be myself and there is nothing better than being able to be live your own truth and not being worried about what people think or talk about me.

I used to be afraid to tell people about my sexuality and be labeled as “the gay athlete” and people forgetting the Felipe they first met. But it is completely the opposite. People start admiring you because you are brave enough to live your truth and not care about what others might think.

When I officially came out, other LGBT students and athletes started sharing their stories with me. We started connecting and helping each other. I saw the effect that being out has in my and other people’s lives. And I hope I can help more people feel good about themselves.

There is nothing wrong with being who you are!

What are your goals for this project?

We hope that this project can help gay athletes speak up and try to make the difference in their own institutions like we are trying to do. We had the chance to make this project and we really wanted to help promote the change, so future generations that come to our institution know that three straight and one gay athlete got together and started a conversation that might have promoted a safe place for them to be who they are with no fear.

We hope that this project changes the way some institutions view gay athletes and start embracing them despite their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Felipe Oliveira can be reached via email (augusto8felipe@gmail.com), on Instagram (@16feaugusto) or Facebook.