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Atticus DeProspo is a Junior Industrial and Labor Industrial Relations major and soccer player at Cornell University, and tells his coming out story below. He is also a Theatre Productions minor.
As a young man active in collegiate athletics, I am aware that this world about which I am most passionate is not always very tolerant. There is a strong masculinity that pervades sports, especially male sports, and I was worried about the repercussions I might face if I were honest with my teammates, parents, and family. Because of this fear, I have kept a part myself secret for a long time: I can hold it in no longer.
I am Atticus. I am a soccer player at Cornell University. I am a campus tour guide. I am a resident advisor in the dormitories. I am a dancer. I am a pre-law and lighting design student. I am a human being.
And I am gay.
True, being gay is merely a part of the holistic man that I am. But for some reason it is a part that society likes to place emphasis on—both for better and for worse. I believe that there are many aspects to each human being on this earth that make him or her unique from everyone else. It is what God intended and what makes this world a beautiful place.
It has been a journey to get to this point. Saying those simple words, “I am gay,” to myself was one of the most liberating experiences in my life. It was the first step toward becoming comfortable fully in my skin and accepting myself. It was the start of an amazing process in which I have learnt about myself, my perspective and my path in life.
I cannot lie: the hardest part of the journey, for me, was getting to a point of acceptance. It took me a long time to get there, and there was no way I would have made it to this point of happiness and acceptance without the guidance and love of my family, teammates, friends and mentors. It was a process to gain the support of those who I love most in this world, but I had the perseverance to never give up on my relationships…just like I never give up during a 90-minute soccer game. The chance of victory is always a possibility! I credit the world of sports, especially the game of soccer, for giving me the strength to accept who I am.
I feel very fortunate to have such an amazing support system, and I realize that not everyone has that in their life. Many young people struggle to come to terms with who they are because they fear that they will not be accepted by family, friends, teammates and other individuals whom they love. They worry they will have a difficult life; they will have to give up their goals and dreams because they are gay. I had many of the same concerns before I got to the point of acceptance, and I still struggle sometimes.
Because I have so many people in my life that I can turn to for support and guidance, I know I can get through anything. It saddens me that this is not true for everyone.
I feel so blessed to have amazing parents who love me, support me and have given me so many wonderful opportunities in life to pursue my dreams. With that said, I realize not everyone is as fortunate as me and has received the same opportunities, which is why I have a passionate need to help others. God has blessed me with a great life, and I feel it is my duty to help others.
One experience that truly motivated me to accept myself and be proud of how God created me was the inspiring story of professional soccer player, Robbie Rogers. His courage and bravery to free his soul and live his life the way God intended gave me the push I needed to accept myself and be free of the fear, self-hatred and depression I was constantly feeling. After reading and following his story during my spring semester of my sophomore year at Cornell, I felt inspired that I could play soccer and be happy because he was doing it! Because at the end of the day: if you can play, you can play. I feel that is all that matters and all that should matter on a soccer field. I finally decided that I needed to continue to kick a soccer ball at Cornell, but also accept myself and live my life honestly. If Robbie Rogers was able to do it at the highest level, I should be able to at the collegiate level too!
One of the reasons I came to this revelation was because when I read the letter he wrote to his 14-year-old self, it was like he was talking directly to me:
"I’m not going to tell you to come out at 14 years old. I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen in the future either because the journey is important. But I want you to realize that God made you this way for a reason. You’re not damned or going to hell. You didn’t have a choice in this. But you do have a purpose in life, just as everyone does."
When guys say things in the locker room, remind yourself that most of them don’t actually feel this way. They aren’t really homophobic. These are people trying to please others, or think that’s what they’re supposed to say. Everyone is dealing with something, whether they’re gay or straight.
You don’t have to feel like you’re alone.
Which brings me to this: If there’s any great advice I can give you, it’s to find someone you can speak to about what you’re feeling inside, someone you can trust who won’t judge or expose you. Because you can’t walk around with a burden like the one you’re carrying. You’ve got to share this with somebody.”
So I took Robbie Rogers’ advice. I confided in an individual who I always admired for living his truth openly and freely, and he really helped me to accept myself and answer a lot of questions that I kept asking myself, but could never answer. It was nice to have him as a role model and mentor, who I could trust and feel safe sharing this huge secret I was carrying around inside. I feel God brought him into my life to help me find happiness, and I am so grateful I could rely on him and he did not pass judgment nor did he expose me. He helped me on my journey.
Robbie Rogers’ letter and the advice it provides was part of my journey. At the time I read it, it was exactly what I needed, and I feel it can help other young people who are struggling and need a source of hope and inspiration. So THANK YOU Robbie Rogers for giving me the courage and strength to accept myself and be happy with who I am!
And now, I feel I must pay it forward! Because the young people out there struggling to accept themselves should not give up on their dreams of playing soccer—or tennis—or football—or hockey—and I hope by getting involved with Athlete Ally that I can help to provide a source of inspiration and hope for them. And I want to help them in anyway that I can!
THIS IS THE REASON, I have decided to start a chapter of Athlete Ally on campus at Cornell University with the help of Professor Beth Livingston at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. This is an opportunity, not simply for me to be honest and true to myself, but more importantly, to create a safe and respectful environment for every athlete at Cornell, as well as to open the minds and hearts of people who are not as comfortable with people who are different from them. Although Athlete Ally is ostensibly about respect and tolerance for LGBT student athletes, I hope that our chapter at Cornell takes an even more universal approach and can help to bring an end to the masculinity that prescribes the strong gender norms and stereotypes that I have witnessed throughout my athletic career. I hope Athlete Ally at Cornell will help to change the hearts and minds of people. Full acceptance of LGBT student athletes might be difficult to achieve from every single person on campus, but at the end of the day, I want our group to foster an environment of tolerance and respect for all people, regardless of whether you are gay or straight, black or white, man or woman, Republican or Democrat, soccer player or basketball star. Our Athlete Ally chapter at Cornell will remain focused solely on fostering this environment of respect with the hopes of spreading that message throughout the Ivy League and beyond.
I know that not everyone will accept who I am.
And I am not asking for that. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. But I – as well as every other LGBT athlete at Cornell and beyond – want respect and tolerance as a teammate and person. It is no one’s life to live but my own, and I am taking responsibility for who I am. I hope that the Athlete Ally chapter can be a source of validation to other athletes who are also taking responsibility for themselves and can help me to spread that message throughout the various other communities I am currently involved with and will be involved with in the future.
Athlete Ally, at its core, is about Victory Through Unity. We win because we play together. Our chapter will help to facilitate that goal by helping people to break free of the labels that stigmatize them and box them in. Just as labels can stigmatize LGBT individuals and make it difficult for them to embrace their whole selves, labels can stigmatize athletes as being close-minded and prejudiced toward people who did not fit certain gender stereotypes. Athlete Ally is a safe space for everyone who is looking to shed those types of labels and work together toward fostering a safe and healthy environment. Cornell is known as a community of tolerance and respect – and our chapter of Athlete Ally will be characterized by those goals as well.
I am Atticus. I play soccer at Cornell. I give tours to prospective students, I advise residents in the freshmen dorms, and I do many other things. I am embracing all of who I am, but I am not a label. I will not be stigmatized. I look forward to the future: if any country can adopt the tolerance and respect for others that will lead to the breakdown of stereotypes that pervade collegiate sports, America is that country. If any college can do it, it is Cornell. And if any organization can do it, it is Athlete Ally.
Atticus can be reached at [email protected]