Two years later, the date is still implanted in Quadry Allen’s mind: Sept. 25, 2018. He was returning home from a late-afternoon stroll with his boyfriend, and then his phone buzzed.
An ominous text appeared on his home screen. It said to stop leaving his phone lying around friends’ houses. Within minutes, his family began calling. First it was his mom, then it was grandma and grandpa, and then it was his uncles and aunts.
Allen had been outed. He doesn’t know who did it, and at this point, doesn’t want to. But if Allen were to run into this person, he would say two words: “thank you.”
“I kind of thank whoever did it, because who knows to this day if I would’ve had the courage to go home and tell my family,” he told me on the phone. “I could still be in the closet. Life has been so much better since then.”
Allen’s family in the Boston Gay Basketball League, one of multiple LGBTQ-inclusive sports leagues in the Boston area, is a big reason why.
Allen grew up in small-town Louisiana, where his family life was largely centered around religion. Allen’s grandmother was a minister, and he would attend church three times per week. A high school basketball standout, Allen wanted to play in college, and one of his good friends started playing at the University of Massachusetts Boston — the third-largest campus in the five-campus UMass system.
The coach came to down to watch Allen play, and brought him up north for a tour. Allen says he fell in love with Boston, where he set out to do more than attend class and play basketball.
He wanted to find himself.
“When I came to Boston, that was my way to explore and find myself and not feel the pressure or the stigma of being straight,” he said. “It was a good outlet for me, but at the same time there were different struggles with being myself.”
Allen dove into Boston’s gay nightlife scene. He met two friends working at the Apple Store, and they took him out to mainstay haunts such as Club Café and Cathedral Station. Allen knew he was gay since his sophomore year of high school, and for the first time, was exploring those feelings.
But entering his sophomore year of college, things were still complicated. Allen found himself living a double life in Boston: straight on campus, and gay off of it.
“I think it got harder when I got named captain at the end of my freshman year,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure to be a captain. I couldn’t be gay.”
Allen did tell some of his former teammates, naturally delivering them the news via text message during a summertime sojourn to Provincetown. But he didn’t come out to anybody at school.
The double life remained.
Allen’s grandfather was diagnosed with cancer before his senior year, prompting him to temporarily step away from basketball. He pushed everything aside— including his self-exploration — and focused on his grandpa’s health.
With his grandfather’s health improving, Allen returned to campus the following year, and enjoyed his best season on the court. As a senior, he led the Beacons in minutes per game and shot nearly 35 percent from the field.
But with the guys, he was still straight.
“Nowadays, everyone’s like, ‘it’s OK, you should’ve told us. We would’ve still loved you as ‘Q,’” Allen said. “But at the time, being a captain, I didn’t know how people were going to react to that. I didn’t want to lose the team by telling them I was gay. That was my fear.”
Allen lost the power to control his own narrative on that fateful September day. He remembers sinking into the couch, frozen in shock. But leaving Boston was never an option.
“I knew if I went back home, things would be too fresh, and they would be too weird,” Allen said. “I had to figure things out on my own.”
Today, Allen is out to everybody on his life, and is on great terms with his family. But there were some tough times.
During those moments, Allen leaned on his chosen family, and they came through. As a post-grad, he joined the Boston Gay Basketball League, meeting sporty gay peers who span generations and spectrums. When his world was rocked, their support carried him through.
“It was amazing,” Allen said. “When I first joined, I wasn’t out, so just seeing everyone be so happy, and seeing everyone be so free, and then all of these guys play basketball and have a lot for it — and the level of competition. It made me feel like I belong somewhere.”
Kevin Quincy, the commissioner of the BGBL, says Allen’s story embodies what the league is all about. He’s taken on a leadership role.
“Quadry embodies the true mission of the Boston Gay Basketball League in a leadership position as Director of Sponsorship, while also promoting sportsmanship and camaraderie on and off the courts,” Quincy said.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the BGBL hasn’t played in nearly a year. With cases surging, they could be sidelined for a while longer.
Fortunately, the gay bond can withstand quarantine. Allen has also joined the Beantown Softball League, and recently returned from a tournament in Florida.
Allen has always felt most comfortable on the field or court. And now, he can be his true self while playing. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“The two sports leagues have helped me out so much,” he said. “They made me feel like I was home and made me feel like gay people can still play sports.”
You can follow Quadry Allen on Twitter, @quadryallen, and Instagram, @quadryallen.