“I’m in a better place since coming out,” golfer Tadd Fujikawa told a British newspaper, seven months after he decided to publicly announce that he is gay. “It was a bit of transition learning to feel comfortable again, and now it’s kind of like I’m starting over.”
And he’s doing so in Sea Island, outside Brunswick, Ga., on the southern state’s south Atlantic coastline. That’s hours from gay-friendly Savannah and he told The Guardian he’s well aware of Georgia’s reputation.
“Living in Georgia, it’s not, how do I put this?” he said, trying to find the right words. “I guess it’s a pretty conservative state and the people aren’t really as accepting and open-minded towards the LGBTQ community as they are on the west coast.” He said his decision to come scared him “just because I didn’t know what was going to happen, what the reaction was going to be, whether I was going to be discriminated against.”
And that’s a common fear we at Outsports hear all too often from athletes afraid of taking the leap of faith and living true. But over and over, we hear what Fujikawa said next:
“Honestly I did expect a few of the members to pull away from me, and it’s been almost the opposite, everyone’s been so supportive and encouraging.”
Fujikawa told the paper he was surprised by the “acceptance and inclusion that everyone has given me since I came out. It’s really special, and I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been pretty great, and I’m very thankful for that. I just hope we get to the point where we all live in peace and love each other for who we are, and support and accept each other for that.”
Other pros did indeed reach out to him with messages of support, some of whom he knows, some he didn’t, until now. And he wondered aloud whether one of them might come out, too.
“On the PGA Tour, there’s got to be at least a couple of gay guys, there’s just no way around it,” he told The Guardian, “but coming out is one of those things everyone has to do in their own time and, honestly, people don’t even have to come out. That’s the way it ought to be, where people can just live the way they want and coming out doesn’t have to be this big announcement.”
Although Fujikawa told Outsports last September that he had not come out to anyone in professional golf until his post on Instagram, the Hawaiian native revealed to the Guardian that he came out to his dad an hour before he went public. “I called him and told him I was gay and right away it was like this wall between us just disappeared, and it was very, very cool. I’ve never been really close with him, but my coming out really helped our relationship.”
Fujikawa was feeling resentment toward his dad, who had been arrested for selling drugs to an undercover police officer. And he was struggling with depression.
“It wasn’t all down to being in the closet, but that definitely added to it,” he said.
Just four days after Fujikawa turned 16, he became the youngest player in half a century to make the cut in a PGA Tour event. He won the Hawaii Pearl Open a few months later, and turned pro.
But his success was short-lived.
“It went downhill fast, I just totally lost it, and I had put so much emphasis on golf that once it was gone I felt like I didn’t have anything to live for, and that’s really what started the depression.”
After telling his father that he was gay, Fujikawa turned to Instagram. It was September 10, 2018: World Suicide Prevention Day. And that was no coincidence.
“I didn’t really have to do it,” Fujikawa told the UK paper, “but I know from my experience just how much it helped me seeing other stories like mine, how it helped me move past my fears and struggles, how knowing that I wasn’t alone gave me a lot of hope.” He wanted to give someone else that same help. “Even if it’s just one person, it will be worth it.”
Fujikawa said golf is still a sport where homophobia runs rampant, but he’s better equipped to deal with what some call “locker room talk.”
“The jokes, the banter everyone does, that’s just part of country-club life,” he said. “In the beginning, I didn’t know how to react to it. I wasn’t necessarily offended, but I was uncomfortable, because I wasn’t that secure in myself.”
“It doesn’t faze me any more, honestly. I laugh about it, I understand that it’s just part of life, that they don’t mean it in a derogatory way. I mean, it’s not a good thing but if I got offended by every gay joke that I heard, life would not be good.
“In sport there’s always this idea that you have to conform to a certain type of masculinity, and it’s difficult, it really is, for a lot of LGBTQ youth in sport. But I think we are being a lot more progressive, in all sports. Men’s golf is one of the last sports to change, but we’re taking the right steps.
“it’s OK and things are getting better and you can be who you want to be.”