When a Facebook post from Gus Kenworthy reminded me last month that it was National Coming Out Day, I knew exactly what to do.
His post brought back a favorite memory of my friend, teammate, Homegrown Lacrosse family member, and Minneapolis Lacrosse assistant coach, Christopher Jay White, who tragically passed away in early October.
It was June of 2017. I had just received an email from a parent seeking advice for her 13-year-old son who was “out” in almost all areas of his life with the exception of the lacrosse field. He was worried about coming to our overnight lacrosse camp.
The letter hit home. He was the same age I was when I started playing. He was fighting the same fears I was. I had 20 more years of battle scars than he. There was no way I could let him battle alone for that long.
I responded with our inclusion statement, took a deep breath, and asked that she let him know that he would be amongst friends.
I went on to say that I wished I had the courage to be more open about who I really was so that kids like hers wouldn’t have to feel alone.
Their response was awesome. It made me feel so good that I decided to take another leap and share it with my relatively new colleague, Chris. His response fundamentally shifted the way I felt about myself from that day forward and demonstrated how special he was.
“That is awesome to hear how brave [he] is at that age to be open about who he is, but a bummer to hear that the lacrosse community is the one place he does not feel safe to be himself,” Chris wrote. “Thank you for trusting us by letting us know about yourself.
“I think it shows the strength of the culture that we have in the office with each other and I admire your bravery. You’re right that you have a unique opportunity as a well-respected leader in the lacrosse community, and your email back to her showed how strong of a leader you are by relating to him and making him feel comfortable and accepted in the community that you have created with Homegrown.
“I hope that Homegrown can be a leader in changing the lacrosse community as a whole so that players like ------- can be comfortable with who they are. -Chris”
He later came over to thank me in person and shared a cool story about growing up in the Colorado skiing and snowboarding community, and how Gus’ courage changed things for the better.
So for National Coming Out Day, in honor of Chris, his hopes for the future, and with what felt like his help, I was proud to introduce my boyfriend, Mike, to the world. He’s dope. I love him a lot.
Coming out publicly has proven to be a really positive experience. The outpouring of support from friends, family and the lacrosse community as a whole has been incredible. I was really pleased to see several other lacrosse teams and organizations in the area repost what I shared along with their own inclusion statements.
I’ve also had a few alumni, fellow coaches and youth development workers reach out to confide in me about their own struggles around sexuality and identity. All of these experiences have been humbling and helped me to know that the impact I set out to make has been realized.
Most importantly, several of Chris’ friends and family have reached out to congratulate me and thank me for sharing a testament to Chris’ phenomenal character, kindness and leadership. I hope it’s helped them to heal a bit. It has certainly done so for me.
On the field, it’s been a bit surprising and ultimately really cool that it hasn’t really come up directly. The mutual respect I’ve had with my players, coaches and officials is still there. Lacrosse is still what it’s always been to me, a place of acceptance, fun, passion, energy and togetherness.
Where it has come up is just in how I feel: more genuine, accepted and fully realized. I think a lot of my coaching to date has been rather one-sided. For example, I give as much love, acceptance and effort as I can to my players. Since coming out it feels like something inside me has shifted where I am able to accept the same in return.
It’s a good and healthy feeling.
Aron Lipkin is the Founder & Executive Director of Homegrown Lacrosse in Minneapolis and the Head Coach of the Minneapolis Public Schools Varsity Boys Lacrosse Team. You can find him on Facebook, or on Instagram @aronlipkin.