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Three discoveries helped this gay high school athlete find acceptance in Montana

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Dawson LaRance will run for the Univ. of Minnesota next year.

Dawson LaRance was a standout at Billings (Mont.) Senior High School and will run for the Minnesota Golden Gophers starting next season.
Matt Ehnes

In grade school, classmates constantly made fun of me because they thought my voice was high. “You talk like a girl,” they said. As I advanced through grade school, the mocking comments about my voice, sense of style, and mannerisms followed.

Comments about my voice developed into comments about my gender and sexuality, making it impossible for me to feel comfortable. As just a fifth-grader, I distinctly remember waking up late one night sobbing and telling my mom, “I’m not gay, I swear. I don’t want to be gay. I want to like girls.” I thought, or maybe hoped, that my sexual orientation was something I could control or determine.

When I started middle school I found myself attracted to boys. I started to accept the fact that I am gay, but on the outside I hid it in order to fit in with the other kids.

In seventh grade I was asked almost daily if I was gay. My face flushed red and I was filled with anxiety. I responded with a quick “no” and hoped to convince my peers. I knew I was gay, but I was ashamed to admit to something that was viewed as taboo, a joke, inferior or different.

With this backdrop of fear and shame, life felt impossible. Luckily, three unforeseen events changed everything for me.

The first was running. Little did I know that going out for track and field in middle school would be the best decision of my life. I exceled at the sport in eighth grade, and my peers started to respect me. The training also cleared my mind and provided confidence. Occasionally I was asked about my sexuality, but I did not experience the same degree of bigotry and bullying that I did prior to the sport. Running provided the first step in my journey to acceptance.

My success running provided a level of social improvement, but I found it difficult to truly open up and get close to people. I didn’t fully accept myself, so how could I expect others to accept me? Hearing the word “gay” thrown around as a joke or as a synonym for other hurtful words only solidified my fear of not being accepted.

During my freshman year of high school, my parents learned I was gay. This was step two. They found out by reading something I wrote. The moment they found out I was gay I cried uncontrollably. I thought the biggest fears I conjured up in my head were about to happen. I worried my parents wouldn’t accept me, or they would treat me differently for the rest of my life. I felt like a disappointment. I was never going to be the son I thought they wanted. I was not ready for them to know, or at least I didn’t think I was.

It turns out I didn’t have to be afraid: My parents reacted with love and support. Everything I feared would happen did not. In fact, my relationship with my parents strengthened. Knowing my parents and sister loved and accepted me gave me freedom and strength.

As I matured and grew in confidence, I started to gain the courage to come out to close friends. Coming out to close people in my life was difficult. There is always the fear of rejection or disappointment, but also just being treated differently. As with my parents, I experienced only love and support from my friends. A weight lifted off my shoulders. I did not have to hide that part of myself with those close to me.

Yet I remained afraid of coaches, teachers, or teammates treating me differently if they knew I was gay. I am an individual, not a stereotype. I didn’t want anyone to treat me differently.

As my senior year of high school rolled around, so did the stress of college decisions and high expectations for my senior seasons of cross-country and track. I was increasingly frustrated about my “secret,” but I had no plans to open up in high school. I planned to wait until college. My mindset was to focus on track and my training to meet expectations and big personal goals. Running track my senior year would be full of hard work and stress.

LaRance takes a handoff ahead of the pack.
Chuck Aragon

I had no idea that I would also experience a first relationship that would transform my life and solidify my confidence in being open and honest. This first relationship provided my third life-changing event.

A quick follow on Instagram of a cute boy and accomplished runner named Jacob, was all it took. I did not expect that following Jacob on Instagram would impact my life in so many positive ways. After following me back, we began messaging and we have not gone a day without talking since. Although Jacob lived two hours away, we found ways to be together. We were both blessed as we had each other to share the ups and downs of training and racing. We also had each other to relate to regarding the challenges of being gay in a rural conservative state. Through our time together, we both became more open and confident.

On April 15, 2017, I posted a picture of Jacob and me on Instagram with a caption that read, “Not just my favorite training partner.” The post wasn't meant as a “coming out post” but more as a post to share my relationship with the guy I love on social media. Once I posted the picture I knew that I might as well have told my followers, “I’m gay.” There was no turning back. If people did not know I was gay before, they did now, and I was okay with it. I’m just a normal teenager posting a photo with my boyfriend – something done by virtually all of my peers. Finally, I was not scared to share.

Jacob and I have helped each other immensely. He has been someone I can lean on and someone I can relate to. Since posting the picture, I have felt free and comfortable with myself. People know I’m gay and I am 100% okay with it. I have received only support and love from the people that matter the most in my life. I am sure there are those who have an issue with who I am, but they keep their distance, which is fine with me.

This year I have had some of the happiest times in my life. I credit this happiness to the hard work I put in to have a great and successful track season, my family and friends for all of their love and support, and my boyfriend for being someone who helped me be comfortable with my sexuality and was there to stand with me as I came out to many people in my life.

Looking into the future I am very excited. I will be attending University of Minnesota with a scholarship to run track and field. While leaving my family, friends, and my first love is bittersweet, I can’t help but be excited for the next chapter of my life to be lived as an open book with no more to hide.

Dawson LaRance will be a freshman at the Univ. or Minnesota this autumn. You can find Dawson LaRance on Facebook, and on Instagram @dawson_larance or on Twitter @DawsonLRun. He is also reaching via email at dawson.larance@yahoo.com.

Story editor: Cyd Zeigler