When I started openly discussing my sexuality, the public discourse about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer was just beginning to evolve. Like the leaves in fall, I could see the colors shifting, and every morning it seemed like the change came a little faster. For the first time, the dominant message was that being yourself was perfectly acceptable, even if that meant you were openly queer.
Oct. 11, 2007, National Coming Out Day, is the day I also claim as my own coming out anniversary. To provide some context, I was 16 and in love with my best friend, who had just agreed to go steady with me. Our relationship bloomed from "Grey's Anatomy" fanfiction forums (I have since retired), so my friend and I hadn't met in person. I finally told my parents the following January, and my father took me from Indiana to Chicago for our first meeting that March.
At the time, I was the starting varsity point guard on my high school basketball team. I spent most of my days worrying what my coach might think if I revealed my true self. I also had this nagging feeling that I didn't belong in sports. For years I felt like I was hiding from myself and as though I was alone in my personal journey. I knew about Sheryl Swoopes because my father told me it was like Michael Jordan coming out, and I was somewhat familiar with Billie Jean King's backstory -- but, that's about it.
I went through college treating my love of sports and my queer identity as very different things. As I continued to grow into myself, I coached middle school girls and watched football on Sundays. Most of my friends were not sports people, and most of the sports fans and athletes I knew were not exactly coming with me to a Drag Ball. The idea that any sports organization would stand up for LGBTQ rights felt absurd. I couldn't even legally get married in my home state.
It's funny how drastically the leaves can change.
On my 10th anniversary of coming out, the sports world is very different. Multiple professional sports teams have said that they value LGBTQ people and will not stand for discrimination. The WNBA has a league-wide pride initiative. Chris Mosier, the first openly transgender athlete, represented Team USA twice and has a major endorsement with Nike. And I, a queer non-binary person, get to write about all of it.
That doesn't mean there isn't room to grow. High school transgender athletes can have vastly different experiences depending on the state in which they live. Genderqueer and non-binary youth are playing in a system that only recognizes two genders. Intersex athletes are invisible. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer athletes still face stereotypes and cultural pressures. There still are no federal anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
Publicly declaring one's sexuality and/or gender identity is a unique burden that rests on the shoulders of LGBTQ people. No one should be forced to do it, and no one should be demonized for choosing not to do so. It's not about courage and bravery, but about safety and inclusiveness. It is up to all of us to create environments that are affirming to LGBTQ people, and that requires the support of non-LGBTQ people.
Ten years ago, I could barely name two LGBTQ athletes. I didn't think I had a place in sports. Now, I can name numerous LGBTQ people in sports from Mosier to Sue Bird to Diana Taurasi to G Ryan. I know that we've always been out here, doing the things we love. We were just looking for the right time to talk about it.
To the LGBTQ athletes out there who are feeling like you don't belong, or that you cannot come out on this day, know that I see you. I care about you. You matter to me.