By: Kelly Lawrence, Associate Head Coach of Women’s Soccer at Boston University, and Athlete Ally Pro Ambassador
At 19, I fell in love and wanted to share it with the world. I had found a part of myself, and there was no looking back. I am immensely grateful and fortunate to have a family that supported me from day one, and I knew I’d be loved no matter what. However, coming out wasn’t so easy for me as a coach.
In college, I had fantastic gay and straight friends. But once I entered the “working world” and became a professional soccer player and not too soon after a coach, I felt alone. Moving from state to state for work, I lost (at least, proximity-wise) my support, and my sense of community. I was unsure of how to be “Kelly the gay female coach” with what a lot of society was saying to me: “You can’t be a role model for all young girls if you’re gay.”
So I was “Coach Kelly” and that was it. I was single to the public, and engaged in private. I avoided any questions about my personal life. I lived under the guise of others thinking I was single and just very focused on my work. After one of the best days of my career in 2013, I got to marry my wife. What an awesome few weeks that was. Win a championship, win the conference, make it to the NCAA tournament… marry your best friend.
Not wanting to risk my career and struggling to find the confidence within myself to be proud, I hid a big part of my life from players, parents, coaches and bosses. We snuck off to City Hall in Manhattan with our two close friends and got married.
Four months later, the shine was off. Living a married life behind closed doors was a recipe for disaster and we soon found ourselves there. A year later I was 25 and divorced.
In my haste to get away from my failure, I took a job and moved my life. I continued to live a very invisible life for almost three years. No one asked me about my personal life and I didn’t bring it up. My job was awesome – I was working every day with driven, strong, intelligent inspiring young women, and I felt I was getting more from them than I was giving. One day, one of my student-athletes came to me for support. She needed to tell her story, and she identified me as a safe person to come to.
I realized very quickly how important visibility was. By being proud of myself as a gay woman, I could set a powerful example for the athletes I worked with.
When this athlete came to speak with me, I was nervous and wanted to support her as best I could. She would remember this conversation for the rest of her life as the first time she came out to someone.
As I became more visible about who I was, I saw student-athletes gain confidence and strength from my example. By being vulnerable, bringing up my girlfriend and talking about my life — my whole life — I realized I had the strength and courage to be proud of who I was, and that others could benefit from feeling this way, too.
All of the fears when I got in to coaching – of not getting jobs because I was gay, of the young kids not wanting to be coached by a gay coach – lost their power. I could do more and felt I wasn’t doing enough. Almost immediately I found myself wanting to advocate for LGBTQ student-athletes. I went to the Athletic Director of my school and pitched programming to better support LGBTQ student-athletes. I couldn’t ignore this part of me any longer. I wanted to speak out not only to inspire young student-athletes and support them, but also to support myself.
That led me to joining Athlete Ally as a Pro Ambassador. I believe strongly in Athlete Ally’s mission to end homophobia and transphobia in sport. I’ve seen first hand what visibility, education, and action can do for all. I am proud to be joining Athlete Ally in their efforts to advance LGBTQ equality.
Being gay is a part of who I am, and a pretty great part. I want the students I work with to know there is nothing shameful about who they are. I’m proud of them, and I hope they learn to feel that pride, too.
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