Joey Bonanno, a men’s gymnast at Ohio State, says seeing an openly gay gymnast on the Buckeyes empowered him to feel comfortable with his own coming out in the sport.

“After my very first visit to Ohio State, my heart was set,” Bonanno writes in a coming out essay for Athlete Ally’s website. “For the first time in my life, I saw an openly gay athlete on the team. I saw how valuable he was not only for his gymnastics, but for who he was as a person. I saw someone like myself who accomplished what I aimed to accomplish, and this was huge for me.”

Bonanno, now a junior, was referring to Jake Martin, who was openly gay. Martin was so respected he was named team captain in 2017 as a senior and won Big Ten co-gymnast of the year. Bonanno credits Martin with for “transforming the team culture at Ohio State and promoting an environment of acceptance and respect.”

It was his own self-acceptance that allowed Bonanno to overcome internalized fears that he wasn’t masculine enough to excel in gymnastics. His embracing of who he was helped him shine at the 2017 NCAA men’s nationals.

“On the day of team finals,” he writes, “I relied on nothing but my training and the power of my authenticity. I walked into the packed arena repeating in my head over and over again, ‘I’m Joey Bonanno, I’m gay and I’m worthy.’ Over and over I repeated this mantra in my head, cathartically releasing any negativity or hesitance in my mind. It was almost my turn to start off the floor rotation and I walked up on to the podium, exploding with confidence. I remember rapping a Nicki Minaj verse in my head as hard as I could, blocking out any creeping doubt. The next thing I knew, I nailed the most incredible routine of my life.”

Bonanno stresses the need for the NCAA and its member schools to embrace LGBTQ inclusive policies and practices, knowing that many athletes don’t have the supportive culture that exists at Ohio State.

Bonanno’s essay is worth reading and again shows the power of coming out to be a catalyst for acceptance and change.

You can reach Joey Bonanno on Instagram.