BLOOMINGTON, Indiana — “Now, I kind of feel ready to talk about my relationships,” British diver Tom Daley said Dec. 2, 2013, during a YouTube video that announced he was in a same-sex relationship.
Daley’s video became international news from Mumbai to New York City and even in Omaha, Nebraska.
At Omaha’s Creighton Preparatory School, Clark Carter felt the significance of Daley coming out. Carter was a junior and a first-year member of the boys’ diving team. Carter dabbled in diving during the summers since he was about 6 years old, but he previously played hockey in the winter.
His sophomore year of high school was his final season playing hockey, partially because Carter started to realize that he’s LGBT and didn’t feel the team would accept him.
Carter said he heard “fag” being said with great frequency by his hockey teammates. “I realized it wasn’t for me.”
Carter’s two younger sisters were devoted divers, and his mom dove in college at Nebraska. So when he gave up hockey, he joined his sisters on the Nebraska Diving Club. Carter enjoyed immediate success, taking sixth in the Nebraska high school championships his junior year.
But also throughout that year, Daley’s sexuality frequently came up as a punchline from Carter’s teammates at Creighton Prep, an all-boys Catholic school.
“The criticism scared me,” said Carter, now a junior at Indiana University.
Carter felt enough fear that he kept his sexuality to himself throughout high school. He wasn’t ready to come out as gay until his freshman year of college at Wisconsin, but after one year, he transferred to Indiana. So, he came out as gay to two Big Ten diving teams in two years.
Carter is scheduled to represent the Hoosiers at the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships on Feb. 21-24.
“Your support network is out there,” the 21-year-old Carter said. “It takes some searching. It took me two schools, but it’s out there. … You can be happy. It’s allowed.”
Coming out as a Badger
By his freshman year of college at Wisconsin, Carter knew he was gay, but it wasn’t until a bus ride to Madison near the end of his first semester that he decided to let other people know.
The bus ride came after a weekend in Evanston, Illinois, visiting high school teammate Ryan Tate, a member of the Northwestern men’s swimming team. Carter credits that weekend and the openness of Tate’s gay teammates, including Jack Thorne, as key to his decision to start coming out.
“They were just super cool about it (being gay), and it was totally normal,” Carter said. “That was something I had never experienced before.”
Carter downloaded Tinder while on the bus and set his preferred gender to “Men.”
“That was huge,” Carter said.
Once he was back in Wisconsin using Tinder, Carter knew he needed to tell a teammate. Carter and Matt Aronson were both Wisconsin freshmen divers in 2015-16. Aronson was openly gay and had talked about using Tinder.
“I’ve been out since I’ve gotten here,” Aronson said. “There was never any overt negativity about being out at Wisconsin.”
Lying on his bed one night, Carter sent Aronson a long text message at 1:30 a.m. — a time he hoped no one else would see the message. Carter recalled starting the message by saying, “Hey Matt, listen, if you see me on any of these social media outlets — like a Tinder or something like that — just know it’s not a fake profile.”
Aronson was the first person Carter told that he’s gay.
“He was surprised, but he said the exact right things,” Carter said.
“We are in this together,” Carter remembered Aronson said. “All the gays stick together.”
Carter gradually came out to the rest of his Wisconsin teammates that season, and he also started telling his family. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Carter took 25th on 3-meter springboard for his best result on the three boards at the 2016 Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships.
By May 2016, Carter’s entire family knew his sexuality, and he was leaving Wisconsin. He chose Wisconsin out of high school because it offered him the most scholarship money, but when he arrived, the coach’s style was not a fit.
He contacted several schools, and Indiana and Auburn offered him a roster spot.
“I took my trip to Indiana and instantly fell in love with the school,” Carter said. “They were so accommodating, and they were so willing to just see who I was as a person and show me how they do things — no fluff, no sugar coating. They showed me what being a diver at Indiana would be like, and it was something that I really wanted to be a part of.”
Carter canceled his recruiting trip to Auburn and committed to Indiana the Monday after his visit to Bloomington.
Coming out as a Hoosier
Throughout the day on Oct. 11, 2016, Carter saw Instagram and Snapchat posts marking National Coming Out Day. By then, he had come out to two of the Indiana men’s divers, but after having dinner with the entire team that night, Carter decided it was the perfect day to let everyone know.
That night he lay on his bed in Bloomington and sent a message to the entire Indiana men’s and women’s diving teams letting them know he’s gay.
“I had left there (dinner), and I was like, this group of people is my family,” Carter said. “Just like my family, I can tell them anything. I just thought it was time — given the day, given the circumstances.”
He didn’t drag it out through the season like at Wisconsin, and he liked it better that way.
“It was easier the second time around, I will say, just because the first time around there was an element of mystery to it,” Carter said. “I just didn’t know how anybody would react. The second time around, it wasn’t necessarily easy. … I just kind of started living my life here faster than I did at Wisconsin.”
Carter points to former Northwestern diver Andrew Cramer, who is gay, as the person that inspired him the most to live openly. They became close friends during Carter’s frequent trips to visit Tate during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
“He was the one who made me really comfortable in my skin,” Carter said. “Andrew was the one who was really out and proud. I hung around him a lot. He was so nice and so welcoming.”
For Cramer to see Carter become more open has been rewarding.
“Over the last year, it’s been a lot easier for him to be himself,” said Cramer, a 2017 Northwestern graduate. “I feel like it’s when he’s around the people that he really trusts that he can really be himself and is carefree.”
Indiana men’s diver Cody Coldren, who is straight, hosted Carter when he came to Indiana as a recruit in 2016, and the two have been roommates since Carter arrived in Bloomington.
“For his really close friends and teammates, we are happy that he came to us with it (that he’s gay), and that he didn’t have to lead on this different lifestyle that wasn’t truly him,” Coldren said. “I haven’t seen people have problems with it, personally.”
Carter also realizes he lives in the state that elected as its governor Mike Pence, who has expressed anti-LGBT views, and about a quarter of the Indiana men’s swimming and diving team is from Indiana.
“I want to be careful when I say this just because I love my teammates to death,” Carter said. “They are the most supportive group of people that you’ll ever meet.
“On the conservative side of things … they have been firm in their beliefs but very accepting of mine, too.”
Big Ten Conference rules required Carter to sit out the 2016-17 season, because he transferred within the conference. He also lost that season of eligibility. Since he wasn’t competing, Carter didn’t travel with the team, so his interactions with Indiana diving coach Drew Johansen were primarily at practice.
This fall, though, Carter broached his sexuality with Johansen.
“It was super chill,” Carter said, adding that Johansen encouraged him to come out publicly when they discussed it.
Throughout this season, Carter has competed with nothing to hide and qualified for the NCAA postseason for the first time. And now, he’ll be the first publicly out LGBT athlete to wear the Cream and Crimson.
“I’m just proud to represent my school, and I’m just proud to be a Hoosier,” Carter said. “Now that I’m helping to represent the LGBT community, too, as the season moves forward, I have that to be proud of as well. I kind of hope that it’s just an example that if you’re gay or straight or whatever that you’re allowed to do what you want. The world we live in now allows you to be who you are.”
Clark Carter is a junior at Indiana University. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @Clark_Carter.
Erik Hall is a member of the Associated Press Sports Editors and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He can be reached on Facebook, Twitter @HallErik or by email at email@example.com
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to remove a reference to Carter being the first active publicly out IU athlete since there has been a dispute over terminology on what “out” means.