Devin Ibañez, who played professionally in Major League Rugby, has come out as gay in social media posts, saying he has “decided to embrace what I once felt embarrassed of and be proudly and shamelessly myself.”

Ibañez, who played with the New England Free Jacks in 2019 and hopes to play in England to be closer to his boyfriend, posted his coming out message on Facebook and Instagram as a way to close out the old year and begin the new.

A self-described “rugby maniac,” Ibañez played in college for the University of Massachusetts, and in his coming out message posted photos with his boyfriend Fergus Wade, an English medical student he met in 2017 while Wade was doing research at Harvard studying sleep deprivation in fruit flies.

Posting the photos on his coming out story added power to his desire be his authentic self. He created his Instagram account yesterday as “thatgayrugger,” since he is one of the very few openly gay pro rugby players, past or present.

Since posting his coming out message yesterday, Ibañez told Outsports that “everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive and amazing. I’ve even gotten some messages from players who played on the same teams as me who told me a bit about their own stories. And that’s all I really want. Just to connect with those who had similar experiences and hopefully inspire those who are going through the same things.”

Here is what Ibañez wrote on Facebook:

As 2020 comes to a close everyone is looking ahead to 2021 and setting new goals. This year it became increasingly difficult to find things I could take control of. Many things felt out of my control and it was hard not to feel helpless and at times hopeless. I took the time to reflect on my life and what aspects I could control and make positive changes to that would impact my day to day life and happiness.

It became clear to me that living my life with more transparency and openly celebrating who I love would have an immediate positive impact on me and those I care about. So I want to start 2021 by celebrating the love of my life and my partner Fergus Wade who has been with me through the highs and the (very) lows of the last three years.

I am openly gay. This is something that is not a secret to those close to me and even several people not close to me. But I always felt a need to keep it separate from my rugby career. I always came up with a reason why being more vocal would be a distraction, detrimental, or unnecessary. I told myself that if I achieved a certain level of success that I would use that platform to show proudly who I was in hopes of inspiring others to be true to themselves.

As the years went by no level of success was enough to justify potentially losing opportunities within the sport, jeopardizing relationships, or making myself a target on the pitch. The final goal became “Once I sign a pro contract I will be more vocal and become the first openly gay MLR [Major League Rugby] player.” As the day came and went that I signed a contract with the MLR, I moved the goalposts even further. I told myself that I needed to secure a starting spot and long term role in the organization first. Partly due to fear of backlash, but largely fueled by a narrative I told myself that unless I left no doubt about deserving my spot that I would be viewed as a token and not a true professional.

I ended up falling short of the new goal I set for myself and I was devastated to say the least. I felt I had failed not only myself, but those I sought to inspire. But as time has gone on it’s become clearer to me that it was never about the achievements. There would always be naysayers despite what I did or accomplished. I had been separating rugby and my personal life/sexuality since I was in high school because I didn’t wanna be known as “that gay rugger”. I wanted my ability and passion for the game to stand alone, not in the shadow of my sexuality.

But what I considered as casting a shadow I’ve slowly realized can also act as a beacon. So I have decided to embrace what I once felt embarrassed of and be proudly and shamelessly myself. I have met some incredibly talented LGBTQ rugby players over the years, many of whom were blackballed from playing a high level solely due to being gay.

As of now I am the only openly gay rugby player to earn a contract with an MLR side (At least I haven’t heard of any others, would love to talk with anyone who has.) I hope that I will meet others Iike myself playing a high level of rugby and hoping to inspire the next generation of proud LGBTQ rugby players. So I will proudly call myself “that gay rugger” in hopes that one day it won’t sound strange in men’s rugby. And because I know that I am much more than just that gay rugby player, and more than just someone obsessed with rugby.

Rugby has changed my life and inspired me to do things I never would have considered possible. But I have also found high level men’s rugby to still be far from a welcoming place for gay rugby players. I want to help change that because this sport has something to offer us all in the same way that we all have something we can offer to the sport.

So here’s to a new year in 2021 and to taking back control. Here’s some pics of me and my partner living our best life together to make the homophobes in my friends list cringe. But I am confident the homophobia will be drowned out by the values, love and support that the rugby community is built upon. Thanks for taking the time to read, much love to you all.

Devin Ibañez and Fergus Wade met in 2017.

Ibañez hopes to become a role model for other LGBTQ rugby players who are struggling with reconciling their sexuality with their sport and realizes he now has a platform.

“I am extremely lucky to live in a very accepting place in Boston,” he told Outsports. “And to have an amazingly supportive family. So in many ways I’ve had it very easy, but it was still a long and difficult process. But I can say I am definitely one of the lucky ones, so if I couldn’t get myself to take that step for this long with all of the support I had I can’t imagine how difficult it is for those who don’t have those support systems.”

You can follow Ibañez on Instagram.