I unofficially came out as gay to my college track and field teammates at our team banquet while dancing to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.”
At the banquet for my team at Otterbein University in Ohio, our team captain grabbed the microphone and praised people for being themselves and made a special point of saying it about me. She then came over to where I was sitting and hugged me. Though some of my teammates stared at me, I couldn’t care less.
I was unapologetic, I was an athlete, I was truthful and I was gay. That was liberating to me. That meant the world to me that she said those words because she used her platform to promote acceptance and unity
That day was a long time coming. For years I wrestled with being gay and fought against it.
I had consulted a therapist secretly for a couple of years and went to a church and attended sessions to “un-gay” myself.
It was a long process of dealing with internal wounds from my childhood and multiple attempts at romantic relationships with women before I finally arrived at the realization that I was gay.
My late aunt was the first person to whom I told that I might have feelings for other men, in a phone conversation in 2009. I was at work and felt so scared. I thought if I actually just said I think I might have feelings then somehow my attraction would go away.
My mother sort of outed me three years later after that phone conversation to my aunt. It was after a heated debate with a cousin who found me quite emotional when the topic of discrimination came up. My mother told me, ''I think you know who you are. You are just too scared of what people will think.''
Despite what my mother said, I had long fought the idea that I was gay. I had gone to a secret group for men who did not want to be gay to try and get rid of my feelings. I also stopped listening to secular music and used a religious book to try and remove myself from the gay lifestyle.
I prayed every night in tears for months to make my feelings go away. I can recall quite visibly feeling like I had invisible weights on my chest. My anxiety had gotten really bad and that was the start of my suffering with depression. Church was a solace for me and many times I went there and cried.
During this period between 2010 and 2012 and after private talks with select family members and friends, I came out. I had a friend who was gay and that helped me through my transition, which was confusing, liberating and difficult.
I did not officially come out to everyone until a year later, and did it on Facebook. I was finally ready to be honest with everyone. I came out after seeing a similar post of a student showcasing his love for his boyfriend. Responses to my coming out were both positive and less so. Because I mentioned God in my post, that set off a firestorm.
I never actually considered myself an athlete and sort of fell into sports accidentally as a child. I was also theatrical and loved theater, but did not have many male peers who enjoyed these interests. I had a lot of energy, so I decided to try different sports.
I tried basketball but felt bored by it. I enjoyed the running aspect and kicking the ball in soccer. I ran track for three years in high school as well as cross-country, and wrestled briefly. In college I was on the soccer and volleyball clubs and studied martial arts. I also ran track in college for Otterbein University in my junior and senior years.
I never really felt that I needed to come out to my college teammates, but some of them did know of my sexual orientation outside of the team. I never brought up the subject to my teammates because I did not want to infringe on anyone.
I heard homophobic jokes occasionally and I sensed that some of my male teammates were uncomfortable around me at times. I did not want to offend anyone or have people treat me different. I just wanted to run and do my sport to the best of my ability.
I felt ostracized that year because I could not hang out with affirming teammates. Sometimes in meets when I ran, I did not feel I had many people cheering for me. I did not hang out with the guys or sit with them after practice.
My coach was a religious man and I too define myself as a Christian but non-denominational, and I did not want my coach to feel he had to give me special treatment.
I decided to leave the team and then days later a former teammate of mine, Kyle, died in a boating accident. We were asked to by his family to pay respects. I never knew him personally, but he was a part of my track family and I went to his viewing and saw his body lying there with his eyes closed.
That day I rejoined the team and felt it was a sign from God to finish out my season strong and do this for Kyle. I ran my ass off and felt I had a guardian angel rooting me on to continue.
I was gay, black and an athlete, and at that time I was not willing to wear all three labels until I realized I had to live my truth. I did not want to be an activist on my team, just a runner like everyone else.
It has been three years since I have graduated from college and now seeing so many brave and wonderful athletes living their truth openly makes me proud and emotional.
I hope someday that the sports world will no longer care about race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity and treat everyone the same — as athletes. I hope my story can inspire as we continue the steps towards universal equality.
Edward Ryan Calloway, 26, works as a model and in the hospitality and fashion industries in Columbus, Ohio. He ran track for Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, from 2013-2014. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and on Facebook.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski