I’m a bisexual and Christian, and was an out college athlete at a Christian college. I am proud of being all three, though reconciling my faith with my sexuality has been a test.
Growing up, I knew I loved nothing more than to compete, especially in soccer. I followed my big brother’s footsteps to leave a mark on my high school team and then play at a higher level.
When I was on the field, I felt free from everything. But whenever the game ended, I fell back into holding my secret in my heart. I grew up in a Christian home in Zanesville, Ohio, and was taught to respect everyone and that my God was who defined me, not the world. I knew I had some challenges ahead of me, but I was determined to find happiness.
In 2017, in my senior year of high school, our football homecoming game was coming up where they would announce the homecoming king and queen. I told my best friend that if I won, I would announce to the school my coming out.
We were all standing there before the game and they announced the king. And I won. As they placed the crown on my head, I was telling the crowd where I was going to play college soccer. I also wanted to tell them my secret, but as I looked at the sea of faces in the crowd, I couldn’t get the words out. I felt I was going to let everyone down from my team to my family, so I said nothing.
In 2017, I headed to Malone University, a Division II Christian school in Canton, Ohio. How Christian? The school’s motto is “Christ’s Kingdom First.” I knew Malone was LGBTQ friendly and had many LGBTQ speakers in the past, so I wasn’t worried. So far, there were no out athletes at the school, so maybe I would be the first.
I knew I couldn’t keep my secret any longer. I wanted to be on the field but also wanted to be able to care for whomever my heart felt for. I wanted to be loved by my teammates but only if they accepted who I really was.
I wanted to focus at practice to help my coming out go easier by showing them that I was all in as a player and would work as hard as any of them. I was coming into college a 5’10” defender and the only thing on my mind was a championship.
Yet, I felt I had to tell someone I was bisexual. I decided that person would be my roommate and teammate Jordan. After 15 minutes of telling him that I was not joking, he gave me a hug and told me he still cared for me and that nothing would change. I broke down and cried for the love and acceptance he showed. I felt so free, like I could breathe for the first time in a long time.
Word got around to my teammates about my secret, and it was as if they felt even more comfortable around me by being able to speak to me and open up more. My honesty, instead of making them reject me, made them embrace me more.
I started getting a lot of attention for being an out Christian athlete. For a college with a student population where more than half were athletes, I was nervous to be seen as any different. But it was very much the opposite.
In fact, I had four athletes wake me up at 3 one morning, crying because they were hiding the same secret about being gay or bi. I was not alone and neither were they. While they are still not publicly out, I know that two have found the strength to come out to family and close friends.
I then opened up to my preacher on campus and was ready for the worst. His response shocked me in a good way: He told me he loved me. And that it was not a choice to like the same sex. That I couldn’t change even if I wanted to.
I was lost for words. My first year at college ended and I was ready to tell everyone in Zanesville who I was. I came out in an Instagram post in July 2018. In the post, I said was not going to let the fear of what others think dictate my heart and my future and told everyone I was bi.
My post wound up getting me a flood of support that I wasn’t expecting. To my surprise, I had student-athletes from universities such as Duke and Long Beach State come out to me, telling me they found comfort in my story.
The attention this one Instagram post got floored me. I was contacted in August by LGBTQ groups at Duke and Liberty universities to tell my story about being an out athlete.
Liberty University might be anti-gay in its policies, but the number of LGBTQ students — including athletes — who attend is high. Since I was not able to be there in person, we decided to use FaceTime.
We spoke on how I was truly scared of God and myself. I was scared of what God would do to me for being myself. I said that I never chose this and neither did they. But I added that we are all created in the image of God. And I will follow him both on or off the field.
Being Christian isn’t changing yourself for God to love you more. Being Christian is being what God created and that is the person you see in the mirror, heart and soul.
Since coming out I’ve made amazing friendships that I will carry forever. Someone who still helps me is another athlete who came out on Outsports, Xavier Colvin, a Butler University football player. Xavier and I are part of an informal Snapchat group of out athletes who support, joke and goof on each other, bonded by our shared struggles and triumphs.
I wound up deleting my Instagram post, which is why it is not linked here. I was getting so much attention that I wasn’t ready for and it stressed me out. It was too much, too soon. In many ways, this article is my second — more public — coming out.
My Christian parents were shocked to hear when I came out. But they explained how they will always love me no matter what. My faith is love and my faith is acceptance of those who may not feel the same way as you do.
Every day, I feel freer than the last. I may be an out LGBTQ athlete, but first I’m a child of God and I’m so loved by him. He did not create my heart for it to be attacked by those upset with whom I love.
I’m telling my story for any LGBTQ athlete, especially those who are Christian, and are struggling. You don’t have to hide from God or your feelings. Just be what he created you to be and that’s yourself.
Andrew Ford, 20, was on the soccer team for Malone University in Canton, Ohio, and will transfer to the Ohio State Highway Patrol Training Academy in August and graduate in 2020. He is a Criminal Justice Major and hopes to join the Phoenix, Arizona, Police Department. He can be reached via email (Andrewford08@yahoo.com), Instagram (@DrewJamesFord) or Twitter @AndrewJFord8)
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (firstname.lastname@example.org).