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Inspired by his twin brother, gay college swimmer finds motivation to come out

Any anxiety Jacob Upton had about coming out as gay on his college swim team was quickly alleviated by their warm acceptance.

Jacob Upton swims for St. John’s University in Minnesota.

Even though I did not always view it this way, growing up with a twin brother was a blessing in disguise.

Through middle school and high school, it was reassuring to know that someone was experiencing what I was. Although we did not always talk to one another about our sexuality, I was always able to count on Jesse to ease my anxiety and make me smile.

At an early age I also turned to swimming, which proved to aid as a distraction from my worries. What began as a simple after-school activity flourished into a love for my team and competition. Despite this, I became more and more concerned with hiding who I was as high school progressed. I felt like the only source of stability in my rapidly changing life, the only thing that I could control, was swimming.

It was not until May 2015, shortly before high-school graduation, when Jesse came out as gay. Although shocked, my family and our friends welcomed and accepted him with open arms.

I was beyond proud of my brother for his courage in expressing who he was. However, I could not help but to feel uneasy. I was jealous of his bravery and yearned for the affirmation he was receiving. My biggest dilemma was that I didn’t want to overshadow his coming out. For this reason, I decided to continue hiding who I was and stay in the closet.

Jacob Upton, right, and his brother Jesse.

Going into my freshman year of college at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, I was nervous about people accepting me. That, coupled with the fact that the college I chose to attend is an all-guys’ school located in the middle of central Minnesota, caused me to keep my sexuality a secret.

I quickly turned to the swim team to find the friendships and relationships I craved. As I became better friends with the team, they quickly became my second family.

Toward the end of my freshman year, I made the decision to come out to two of my best friends on the team. After telling them I was gay, I was overwhelmed by their support. For the first time in my life, I felt accepted for who I really was.

Over the next two years, I continued to find excuses to delay coming out to my parents.

In the spring of 2018 I began dating my first boyfriend. Over the first few months of our relationship he taught me how to love and accept myself. After talking to him, as well as Jesse and the few teammates who knew about my sexuality, I was determined to come out to my family before leaving for my senior year of college in the fall.

Before I knew it, it was the end of August and my family and I were on our way to drop Jesse off at college at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is a second-year pharmacy major. After saying goodbye to him, my parents and I drove off for our four-hour car ride home to Bloomington, Minnesota. Within three minutes of being on the road I turned to my parents and told them I had something I needed to say.

Becoming silent, I slowly summoned the courage to mutter the words, “I’m gay.” At that moment, my parents turned to each other and didn’t speak for what felt like hours. Eventually, after asking some questions and digesting my answers, they expressed their support and affirmed their love for me.

After the success of coming out to my family, I was even more excited about returning to campus.

Excited and eager for my last collegiate swim season, I had one goal on my mind: I wanted to fully come out to my team. Although many of the swimmers on the girls’ team at our partner school, the College of Saint Benedict, knew I was gay, I was still skeptical on how many of the guys would take the news.

Jacob Upton in competition.

Instead of announcing the news via social media or through some cheesy “I’m gay” speech, I decided on a more unconventional manner. Last month, at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, I invited my boyfriend to come support me for my last collegiate competition.

Excited by placing eighth in the 400IM finals, I marched into the stands to jump into his arms. After thanking him for coming and supporting me, I glanced down at the pool deck and was greeted by the smiling faces of my teammates looking up at us.

After walking back down to join my teammates, everyone congratulated me on my final race and asked a multitude of questions about my boyfriend. Looking back at my experience, I wish I would have come out to my team much earlier.

The acceptance and support I receive from them has been more than I had ever hoped for.

Although I am the only openly gay male on the team, I felt for the first time that I was surrounded by people who understood who I was. My collegiate career has come to an end, but the friendships and bonds I have made will last a lifetime.

Jacob Upton, 22, will graduate from Saint John’s University in Minnesota in May 2019 with a degree in computer science and mathematics. He is a member of the men’s swimming and diving team. He can be reached at Jsupton@csbsju.edu and at Jacob.Upton (Instagram), JUpton17 (Twitter), or Jacob Upton (Facebook)

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com).