derek 300x199 Derek Schell Is NCAA Division IIs First Openly Gay Basketball PlayerIn a letter posted on Outsports.com, Derek Schell, Hillsdale College basketball player came out publicly, explaining that, by fully reconciling his sexuality with the rest of his life has made him happier, more fulfilled and more passionate than ever:

For the past 12 years, I have known at least four things to be true: the blue Power Ranger was the best Power Ranger; no one can coach basketball better than Mike Krzyzewski; the Green Bay Packers stand for everything that’s right in this world; and I have always been different. I fully accepted the greatness of the first three, but tirelessly fought the last.  For the longest time, I didn’t exactly know what this different was. The turning point in my journey was the day I realized and accepted that this difference meant that I was gay.

My name is Derek Schell, 22 years old from New Berlin, Wisc., a suburb of Milwaukee. I am a 6-1 senior guard for Division II Hillsdale College in south central Michigan. Since I can remember, the fear of being different led me to act differently in separate aspects of life. I found my escape in the gym, losing myself in training for and learning the sport I love. I excelled in the classroom, studying and using my creativity to draw attention to my scholastic identity rather than personal characteristics.

Aside from that I was silent, keeping my emotions — and my trust — to myself, analyzing why I did not fit into my world the way I wanted to.  From middle school to high school, confusion about where and how I belonged led to depression and anxiety. I prayed I would see the light and all of it would just disappear, but the sleepless nights and undefined sadness had control.

I hid these feelings from everyone close to me and “I’m fine” became my personal motto. As a star athlete and a successful student, I held a high social rank at a prestigious Catholic high school. For most 17-year-olds, that is a dream come true. For me, it was a nightmare. I became part of a group of people from whom certain things were expected, including being honor roll students and varsity athletes. My friends, my parents, my sister, my teachers — everyone expected me to be an all-star, to help lead the basketball team to a state championship and to date a pretty girl. I wanted people to accept me and to embrace me, so I let those expectations take control. I hid who I was so that I wouldn’t let other people down. It was much later that I realized that the problem was not that I didn’t fit into my world the way that I wanted to. The problem was that my world didn’t fit who I was. It fit the guy I was trying to be, but it didn’t fit Derek.

Derek explains that, from the outside, he appeared to have everything. He made good grades, he was a star athlete, and he had the attention of beautiful girls. But it wasn’t right.

I felt alone, isolated by my feelings, and I was sure I was the only person who felt like this.  At that point, I had no trust in myself to open up to anyone around me. At home and at school, most people had never even met a gay person. I grew up in an area of rich, white, straight people of the middle- to upper-class.  There were stigmas about being gay and misconceptions about masculinity that I refused to confront. It was the systematic lifestyle and viewpoint of where I grew up. The majority of the time, children, parents and their parents’ parents adopted the same conservative ideals about family and “morality” that were socialized throughout generations. They believed what they were told. Their religions aligned with their conservative convictions of gay people.

He grew up absorbing all the anti-gay dogma that is inherent in conservative Christian circles, which points to an important issue when the discussion of bullying comes up. The Religious Right often claims that they are against all bullying, but this is decidedly not true. You see, a kid like Derek wasn’t a ripe target for overt bullying. He was that kid who everybody else looked up to. But he was indeed bullied, in a different way, by the stigma of what it means to be gay in a community like that. While he appeared on the surface to have it all, the anti-gay teachings of his community bullied him into silence about who he really was. You can’t fight bullying without addressing that so much of what LGBT kids experience is inflicted by adults who think they’re doing the right thing.

Whether someone believed it was wrong, a sin, or just abnormal, I heard every gay slur in the book, directed at me and at others, just because it was, and unfortunately still is, part of our society’s language. For awhile, I truly did accept these lessons. In middle school, when I realized that my difference was my sexuality, these lessons became the controversy clouding my whole outlook on my future self. I thought that I couldn’t be a Christian and also be gay.

Derek eventually realized that he didn’t have to choose between his faith and his sexuality, and when he came out to his family and his teammates, even in their conservative circles, he realized that his support system had evolved to embrace him:

They all respected me and recognized that nothing had changed and I was the same teammate and friend that I was before. Despite attending a conservative college, I have been accepted for who I am by those on my team and others close to me. Eventually, I was so tired of living my life in fear. I was mentally exhausted. Instead, I realized that I could be an athlete, be a friend, be a son, be a brother, be an artist, and be gay as well. I could even be a huge “Glee” fan too. There never needed to be differentiation between the various aspects of my life and personality. One is not mutually exclusive of the other, and being all of these things, all at once, makes me who I am.

Derek ends his piece with this challenge and exhortation:

My challenge to you, whoever is reading this, is to be honest with yourself and how you’re feeling. God doesn’t make mistakes. Don’t keep saying you’re fine. You can be who you are and still be an athlete. You can do all the things you want to do and live a beautiful life that you’ve imagined for yourself. Find your peace of mind knowing you are giving your best self to the world. Be brave. Be love. But most of all, be you.

I’ve excerpted a lot, but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing, and if you have any young LGBT people in your life who need to hear Derek’s message, make sure they have a chance to read it too.