Cyd Zeigler (white hat) with many officials he's worked with over the year. | Photo courtesy Los Angeles Football Officials Association

When I started officiating high school football in 2013, a couple gay football officials around the country told me I shouldn’t be out as a gay man to my fellow officials in Los Angeles. They told me at the time that I would lose assignments, and I would be treated poorly by other officials, including leadership.

I didn’t listen.

How could I?

Even though none of these LA high school football officials I’d work with had ever heard of Outsports or me, my eyes had opened in the couple years leading up to my on-field debut about the reality of LGBTQ acceptance in men’s sports: Gay men were far more accepted in sports than any of us had realized.

Halfway through my first season — at the time just volunteering as a fourth official on JV games, to get experience — I came out to our assignor, Tony Crittendon. It happened naturally, me mentioning dinner plans “with my husband” that I just couldn’t break.

Since then, I’ve been assigned an LA City Championship Game four of the last eight seasons, at three different positions, two as a referee and crew chief.

Most recently, I was assigned as the referee for the Crenshaw vs. Banning Division I CIF LA City Section Championship, with the support of the Los Angeles Football Officials Association President Brandon Sampson..

That is no small deal.

I’ve been elected by the membership as the association’s secretary and now treasurer, even being nominated for president (though I declined the nomination — as a white member of an organization consisting mostly of people of color, I think a Black, Hispanic, Asian or other person of color should be president).

I advanced quickly through the college ranks, working Southern California Community College bowl games both seasons I was on a crew, including one as a referee after my first season as a crew chief.

I was hired by the competitive Division III Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, where Vern Sparling and Michael Frain identified me as a solid official and gave me an opportunity. These men are both Christian and gave me a shot. I got good grades. They didn’t give a crap about whether I was married to a man or a woman.

I cannot thank Sparling and Frain enough.

As I worked through college football, Steve Strimling and Frank Villar — two of the most-respected officials in the business — became my mentors, each of them spending countless hours with me, helping me improve, taking every phone call I made to them.

The NFL hired me — at the recommendation of Patrick Turner — to work in the replay booth at Los Angeles Chargers games, where I worked for two seasons before choosing to leave to spend more time with my husband and friends.

Other longtime officials and legends in the game have offered me nothing but support, knowing very well that I’m gay and with my husband for 20 years: Don Taylor, Gil Correa, Cat Conti, Bill Agopian, Darren Deckard, Apollo Martin…. These officials embraced me for all of me, as long as I worked hard and did a good job.

Over Thanksgiving I got a couple text messages from fellow officials wishing my “husband” and me a happy holidays.

When I talk about how much men’s sports have changed, and how gay men are now widely accepted, it’s because I’ve walked the walk. I’ve seen the acceptance from the inside out.

Some people claim that men’s sports hate gay people. I disagree. The language and nonsense in and around men’s sports may, at times, devolve into nonsense.

Yet the people in men’s sports get it. They accept excellence no matter where it comes from.

Has my experience as a gay man in football been perfect? Of course not.

I remember one locker-room conversation in 2014 when a couple of officials bemoaned the presence of Michael Sam in the NFL — not knowing that one of the people who helped orchestrate Sam’s coming out was sitting in the locker room with them.

That was almost a decade ago, when LGBTQ acceptance was amazingly still at its infancy.

I can’t tell any gay, lesbian or trans official that they won’t experience discrimination for who they are.

What I can tell them is that this group of mostly Black men, growing up or living in what is referred to as “South Central Los Angeles,” love me. They support me. They know I’m gay, and they shake my hand at the end of a well-officiated football game.

For treating me just like anyone else, I cannot thank all the members of Los Angeles Football Officials Association enough.