Last Word: The Legacy of a Gay Athlete
Coming out with a running start.
By Sean Coyne ’10
My 12-year track and field career ended with a historic Patriot League Championship win. While it was an excellent finish to a long and successful career, my real contribution to my team, and other teams at Bucknell, has been my determination to create an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance for all students and athletes.
I was both a distance runner and hurdler in high school. Early in school, I realized why I had always felt different my whole life, but instead of admitting to myself I was gay, I threw myself entirely into my activities and excelled at nearly everything I did. This came at a price. I was very lonely and went through bouts of depression as I struggled with my sexuality.
I looked at several schools for college but as soon as I visited Bucknell University’s campus, I fell in love and knew that it was where I was going to go.
In August 2006, I entered Bucknell and began my collegiate running career. I made friends with my fellow sprinters and hurdlers and they became my new family. However, at 19, I had started coming to terms with the fact that I was gay.
I loved my close group of friends, but I didn't feel comfortable enough to come out to them, especially not with the homophobic slurs that were playfully used in the locker room. But eventually, with the support of my best friend and fellow hurdler, Tony, I decided to tell my other three close friends from the team, my event coach, and my parents.
I came back as a sophomore with great enthusiasm. I was now much more comfortable in my skin, having spent the summer being out. However, the team climate was not any easier. Homophobic slurs were still far too common until the day I finally stood up and said, “Enough.” I sat the team captains down and explained that I was gay and that they had to stop using homophobic language. They were very receptive to my words and took them to heart. Pretty soon they were correcting guys for using homophobic slurs and within a month, it had all stopped.
I was inspired by the positive impact I’d had on my team and I wanted to do more. I started attending Bucknell’s FLAG&BT club meetings. At these meetings I learned about our school’s “Safe Space” program and I got involved immediately. The concept of a Safe Space is a place where anyone can be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
With the help of the director of the LGBT Office, I modified the program so that it was geared towards athletic teams. In my senior year, my team, a roster of more than 130 men and women combined, voted unanimously to be a Safe Team and I was thrilled. With this enthusiasm I continued on to present to eight other programs. Finally, I had made a real and significant contribution to athletics at Bucknell.
This essay is excerpted from Outsports.com. The photo, taken by Jeff Sheng, as part of Sheng’s Fearless Campus Tour project, www.fearlesscampustour.org, which features gay athletes.