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College basketball player comes out and feels a sense of liberation and pride

When SMU’s Bri Tollie tore her ACL, she never thought it would be a catalyst to come out as a bisexual athlete.

Bri Tollie dribbles
Bri Tollie is a forward on SMU’s basketball team.
Kristan Grant

My coming out story began a couple of days prior to June 30, the last day of Pride month, with a group text on my iPhone with my parents.

While the message I sent came out of the blue for them, I had been thinking for three days prior about what to say. It was a long and heartfelt message and I was shaking when I sent it.

When my mom replied, my stomach dropped almost like I was on a roller coaster. At first it seemed like she was not understanding about what I had written, so we talked on the phone to clear up any confusion.

Her overall message was that she did not support my coming out as bisexual but that she would try her best to understand. My dad took more than a week to acknowledge my sexuality.

They asked me why I didn’t tell them when I was home in Bartow, Florida, with them for the previous four months. The reason was simple: It would have been impossible for me to tell them face to face. There were multiple times in high school when I tried to tell them or I got caught with a girl and it did not go well with them.

After telling my parents, I decided to tell everyone else. On June 30, I came out on Facebook and Snapchat.

“The last few months, due to COVID, I have had the opportunity to reflect, analyze, and educate myself,” my Facebook message said. “I’ve also made peace with my true identity. For so long, my insecurities have gotten the best of me, but now I am kicking my insecurities’ butt. [..] The first step for me being confident with who I am, is to stop hiding who I am. It is the last day of Pride month and I want to share my truth. I am bisexual and proud.”

At first, I felt relief that it was sent. But then the comments rolled in and they were amazingly positive. It felt like holding a stretch too long, then releasing it and thinking, “that felt amazing.”

Bri Tollie with Pride flag.
Bri Tollie has been an activist for issues dealing with the LGBTQ and Black communities.
Kristan Grant

It was important for me to share my story because I know there are others struggling just like I was and seeing my story could help them in some way.

The LGBTQ+ community is much more accepted than it used to be and we need to keep pushing so it’s no longer a political issue, but one of human rights. I wanted my family to know that if they had implicit bias about gay people, they needed to understand that I am one of them.

My gender did play a role in my decision to come out. It is really sad that queer women are a lot more accepted than queer men. Who knows the reaction I would have gotten from my dad or my teammates if I was a boy. We say that men have more privileges than women, but in the queer community, it is reversed, at least when it comes to acceptance.

As an activist I have helped lead and put together two successful peaceful protests at my university, Southern Methodist University, for Black Lives Matter. I have also been speaking out on LGBTQ+ issues on social media. This year, I co-founded the Black Student-Athlete Committee, which is dedicated to the advancement and empowerment of Black student-athletes at SMU.

In December, I tore my ACL and that ended my basketball season. It made my spiral into depression that much worse. A lot of my struggles had to do with conflict between my basketball teammates, a lack of confidence and feeling alone. If it was not for my injury, I probably would just have quit basketball all together.

My injury, ironically, was just the spark I needed to relight my candle, so to speak. During the first few months of my injury, it still felt like I was alone. Especially when I saw my teammates getting closer and me just being an outsider.

It was during the season, they were traveling a lot to games, so I was usually left in my room alone. It was then that I realized that I need to stop depending on others to give me happiness. When COVID-19 hit, I was sent home for four months. I needed the time away from my teammates and away from school to be around people who truly loved me.

Bri Tollie is looking forward to playing again
Bri Tollie is looking forward to playing again after recovering from a knee injury.
Kristan Grant

I needed the time to think about all the situations I got myself into, and understand why and how they happened. One revelation was the need to stop playing the victim, understand that not everyone was going to like me and be OK with being myself.

I also needed to find what brought me the most enjoyment aside from people. That is when I got more into human rights. I worked on my confidence daily and on recovering from my ACL. Today, I speak regularly with a mental health specialist and surround myself with people who want to see me succeed. I also don’t let negativity get under my skin.

Basketball has done so much for me since I was a little girl. It gave me a scholarship to a private school, Montverde Academy, and has gotten me to SMU.

It has opened many doors and has given me many opportunities, and being out in my sport lets people understand that I have more to my identity than just basketball. I took advantage of that opportunity this Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, to record a message for SMU Diversity on being an out athlete:

It is important to be visible because everyone is unique. Our uniqueness means no one should not have to give up a part of themselves to conform. It is called self-respect. If you’re struggling, understand that if people dismiss you once you come out, then they were never meant to be in your life anyway.

I feel like a new person and in a matter of nine months I have accomplished so much. My ACL injury and the long road to recovery, along with my coming out, made me stronger and I can’t wait for the season to start in November.

Bri Tollie, 21, will be graduating from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 2022. She studies political science and human rights. She serves as president of the Black Student-Athlete Committee and as a youth power fellow for Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. She is a small forward on the women’s basketball team. She can be reached by email (btollie@smu.edu), Twitter (bri_tollie), or Instagram (britollie_)

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

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

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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