I’ve stepped up to the microphone to address my students hundreds of times before. But this was different. My hands were sweaty; I was shaking.
I’m the principal of the District of Columbia’s Woodrow Wilson High School. Last Thursday, I stood in front of a thousand people, including my students, teachers, even D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, and came out.
“I’m a proud gay man,” I said. “And I just happen to be the principal of Woodrow Wilson High School.”
It was the first time I had ever talked publicly about my sexuality. I’d never even discussed it with my family.
I grew up in South Jersey, where we lived paycheck to paycheck. My parents raised me Baptist, and I used to attend church every week. At church, we were taught that homosexuality is the ultimate sin. As a child, I was told that gay people were going straight to hell. I struggled with this concept, even in elementary school. Why, I wondered, would God create me as gay but then sentence me to hell?
This was a rough time for me. In middle school, I was bullied. I was a tall kid with acne, and people used to call me “fag.” It got so bad that there were days I didn’t want to go to school. Why, I wondered, would God create me as gay but then sentence me to hell?
High school was different. I went out for the football team. I played basketball. All of a sudden, I was well-liked; I had friends. I even ran for class president. My whole life changed in high school. That’s why I became an educator.
I pursued a teaching degree from the University of Virginia. After graduating, I became a teacher and then a principal.
Even though I was professionally successful, I never talked about my sexuality. I turned down faculty members’ invitations to group dinners. I never brought my partners with me to school events, instead attending alone or with a woman. I lost partners I cared about, partners who didn’t want to be cut out of my school life.
In time, it began to feel like I was lying and making up stories throughout my life, explaining why I’m not married, why I don’t have children, why I didn’t have a date for the prom.
I was tired of being alone. I was tired of living in the shadows.
Then, a few months ago, I found an online video of a gay man (the son of a conservative preacher). In it, he attacked the supposed evidence that homosexuality was a sin. After watching his video many times, I realized that the Bible had been manipulated to support the contention that God hates gay people. Really, God is a God of love.
I am, I realized, a gay Christian. I’m not a gay sinner. I’m not destined for hell.
After that, the decision to come out was easy. I was telling my students to be themselves, that this is a safe space. I had to live my own doctrine and message.
When I made my announcement, there were cheers. Afterward, kids came up and hugged me. The next day, parents and students gave me a five-minute standing ovation.
I’ve gotten thousands of emails, texts and Facebook messages from educators all over the world. I’ve heard from parents of gay and lesbian students in high school who’ve attempted suicide. They say, “I just wish my kid could be a student in your school.” I’ve heard from the kids, now adults, who used to bully me.
Still, I haven’t talked to my parents about it.
I didn’t tell them I was making this announcement in advance. I knew they’d try to talk me out of it. I think they’ve seen the news, but they still haven’t said anything to me.
This is what I’m struggling with now. They may be embarrassed when they go to church, but I’m still their son. Are they more worried what people in the church and community say? Or are they more worried about my quality of life, about me living in isolation and depression?
I don’t want to upset them. But I’m a 50-year-old man. It’s not about them, it’s about me. They didn’t make me gay. God made me gay.
The writer is the principal of Woodrow Wilson High School in the District of Columbia.