NORMAN, OK - APRIL 16: Sam Phillips of Nebraska Cornhuskers reacts after competing in vault during the Division I Men's Gymnastics Championship held at the Lloyd Noble Center on April 16, 2022 in Norman, Oklahoma. | Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Samuel Phillips, a gymnast for the Cornhuskers, admits that being the only out male athlete at the University of Nebraska can be “lonely and isolating at times,” but that hasn’t stopped the senior gymnast with Olympic aspirations from embracing being a role model.

“It’s so, so important to be a positive influence in this world that currently has lots of intolerance and ignorance producing hateful actions,” said Philips in a campus interview during Pride Month. “I am the only out male athlete at Nebraska, and it’s lonely and isolating at times. But I think back to what if younger me saw me? How secure and hopeful he would be in himself if he saw an out male athlete being so involved and having a prominent role in all athletics and athletic-related departments.

“I choose to be a lighthouse for those younger than me but also those next to me who aren’t ready to come out and live their lives on this lit-up stage. So yes, being a positive role model is so important in this way. It’s representation, and it’s a signal that it’s OK to be yourself. It’s OK to step into these spaces being as authentically you as you can be.”

Phillips, who identifies as bisexual, is gearing for his final season with the Cornhuskers’ gymnastics team this winter after missing last season with an injury. Despite the injury, he was still a team captain while earning several academic honors.

Philips came out to his team as a freshman, saying “I was blessed” by the response. Being out “allowed my gymnastics to get better,” he said.

“I use my gymnastics as an art form to express my creativity, expression of some femininity with some masculinity, all around [coming out] has made my gymnastics better,” the Los Angeles native said in a video for National Coming Out Day.

Phillips is proud of forming a chapter of Athlete Ally at Nebraska, calling it an exciting push for inclusion. The hospitality, restaurant and tourism management major also has lofty goals: “Have the best hospitality company in America that reaches worldwide on a business scale. Win an Oscar. Produce and direct a dream superhero movie series of mine. Own my restaurants — I basically want to do it all.” He also hopes to compete in the 2028 Olympics.

In a time when LGBTQ rights are under attack in many states, including Nebraska, it’s important to highlight people like Phillips, who are fighting an important push for acceptance, something that starts with advocacy through visibility.

You can follow Samuel Phillps on Instagram or X (formerly Twitter).