Michael Martin already knows the bravery required to be true to himself in the public eye. And now he’s using that courage to try to make a difference for his hometown.
The former Wilson College and Musselman High School goalkeeper — whose 2014 coming out story was that year’s most-read piece on Outsports — has announced that he is running for a seat on the Berkeley County, West Virginia Board of Education. Berkeley County encompasses Musselman H.S. in the Eastern Panhandle region of the state.
Berkeley County’s next election for its Board of Education is scheduled to be held on May 12, 2020.
In a phone interview with Outsports, Martin talked about the issues he wished to address, noting that “I would like to implement LGBTQ education training for all school staff to provide an awareness of harassment and situational intervention. As the second largest school system in West Virginia, we need to be a leader in protecting our students and making sure the necessary resources are available for every student.”
Last week, Martin explained to a local newspaper, the Herald-Mail, that his bid for the BOE seat is partially a response to a disturbing pattern of population and talent loss in his home region:
“We have a crisis of teachers and families leaving the Eastern Panhandle at alarming rates to neighboring states due to school budget cuts and falling standards. As a board member, I will work tirelessly to expand access to quality education, improve our schools’ infrastructure, and ensure a secure future for Berkeley County students.
“I believe it is my time to stand up and make sure the schools are safe, secure, and exceeding state standards.”
Indeed, Martin has been standing up and leading by example for much of his young adult life. His coming out story centered around a public homecoming slow dance with his boyfriend from a rival school that served to let his peers know that he was out of the closet.
After his story went viral, Martin quickly learned what it was like to be a public figure, granting interviews to Time Magazine and ESPN.com while seeing his piece in Outsports get picked up in publications as varied as Seventeen Magazine and the London Daily Mail. In a follow-up the next year, Martin shared what it was like to learn that his life story had become a source of inspiration for his college teammates.
Reflecting back on that experience five years later, Martin noted that “as an introverted person, I have also had to come out of my shell. That article helped me come out to all of my friends and family... In the end, it helped me become a better person and to serve my community to the best of my ability.”
Soon after his story was published in Outsports, Martin also got a close-up look at some of the struggles inherent in being an LGBTQ public figure while working for the state Senate campaign of openly gay Democrat Stephen Skinner in 2016. During that race, Skinner’s vote against a so-called “religious freedom” bill was the basis for an exploitative and transphobic robocall to voters sponsored by a group called the Family Policy Council.
As Martin told Outsports at the time, “This is a low blow to the first openly gay legislator in West Virginia.” Skinner would go on to lose the election by five percentage points.
However, this setback did not stop Martin’s determination to stand up and make a difference. As he noted at the time, “Having gay policymakers in a state that is so conservative is very meaningful. It makes me very, very proud.”
Thinking back to that experience after announcing his own candidacy, Martin admitted that “Stephen’s campaign absolutely did inspire me to run for public office in my lifetime.” As to whether he expects any of the dirty tactics that Skinner faced, Martin promised that “I will be surprised if there will be any backlash—just in case, I am prepared.”
While Martin didn’t expect to be running for office at such a young age, he’s all in on taking matters into his own hands and helping to craft policy for his district. Putting it succinctly, Martin summed up his decision: “I thought it was time to step up, especially with what has happened on our board in the past year.”