It was the first day of Pride Month this year and Jake Streder was heading to the principal’s office. The senior didn’t hear any references to the occasion in the morning announcements, so he decided to ask for himself.
As it turns out, Jake was right: the start of Pride Month wasn't mentioned. The oversight was immediately corrected when he entered the office.
“I was just like, ‘It’s not a big deal if I go in and talk about it and ask if they did it,’” he said. “As soon as I went in, they announced it.”
That story exemplifies just one of the many ways Jake is trying to increase LGBTQ visibility in his little corner of the world. As a freshman high school football player for the Matea Valley Mustangs in Aurora, Ill., in 2018, Jake was outed. The episode intensified his love-hate relationship with football, and he wasn’t sure he could go back and play.
But Jake did show up, and on the first day of practice, he encountered 60 welcoming and supportive faces. Since then, Jake has successfully been reclaiming his story, and finding his confidence along the way.
Oh, and mom gets an assist, too.
“It’s about how we pave it forward,” said the proud mom herself, Jen Streder. “So how do we do our part to help other families realize embracing this shift in what you may have thought life would look like might just be one of the best things that ever happened to your family?”
Jen and Jake’s campaign started with about 50 Pride flags — and the expectation they would probably have to just give some away.
Instead, they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Soon, there were about 300 Pride flags flying high throughout their community.
“You never know when someone needs to see that,” said Jen. “You drove through the neighborhood and it was kind of overwhelming to see.”
In addition to increasing visibility, Jake, 17, wants to normalize coming out and being gay in his hometown. That’s why he and his mom built his reimagined closet. They took his closet doors, took out the panels, and reconstructed his childhood closet into something colorful and reaffirming.
It’s become a popular picture spot around town.
Now a senior, Jake, who’s also currently applying to colleges, has taken the initiative to educate his classmates about LGBTQ issues, and most importantly, engage in dialogue. Questions don’t offend Jake. They mean others are interested.
“I just feel like it’s a really important thing for people to know about and learn in general, and I don’t think in schools we really get much of that,” he said. “If there’s a way for people to have that outside of school, it’s good to still know, and it’s good to get out there.”
Some of those conversations happen around the football team, where Jake has never felt more confident. When Jake wrote his coming-out story for Outsports in 2019, all of his teammates offered to pose in a picture with him.
His favorite football memory happened during his sophomore season, when he recovered the ball on defense, and everybody on his team went wild.
His relationship with them, and football, has never been better.
“I like [football] a lot more now,” Jake said. “I’m just more comfortable. It’s actually a good outlet now. Before it was just stressful and uncomfortable.
“It’s not uncomfortable anymore.”