June was Pride month and as it wrapped up on Sunday I was loving all the pictures on my social feeds from New York and really all over the world. It really made me think about why I’m an Ally for this community. Where did it all start?
I was in seventh grade when my middle school basketball coach said he had an opportunity for us to jump higher. I’m short and white, so I was totally interested. Turned out, the opportunity was to play volleyball for a boy’s team, the only boy’s team in Michigan. The coach was local to my school district and looking for male athletes.
This coach was also a gay male.
Of course, as a 13-year old boy, I had no idea that he was gay. I went out for the team. Made it, and it really set me off on a path I could never believe. I traveled nationally with this team. I made the best friends from all over the country. I had a mentor in this coach who supported me as a coach, a dad, a friend.
It became apparent very soon to me that playing volleyball on the only all-boys team in Michigan had some advantages and disadvantages. I got used to being called “gay” by ignorant people when we tried to do some fundraising. “Hi, I’m Tim, and we’re fundraising to attend the Junior Olympics to compete in boy’s volleyball! We would love your support!” Boy’s volleyball? What are you gay or something?
It was a strange experience to be called “gay” because I was playing a game that I loved, and that people weren’t used to seeing boys play. To have someone assume because I liked doing this one thing, you could determine my sexuality. I’m like, no I really, really like girls, but still, so you don’t want to support us because you think only ‘girls’ play volleyball and because I’m a boy playing volleyball I must be gay?
I also got used to attending weekend tournaments where our team of 8 boys would be playing in gyms with hundreds of girls! It was a huge advantage for a short, red-headed, goofy teen boy who liked girls! I needed those odds to be in my favor!
Eventually, my dad had a conversation with me. “You know your coach is gay, right?” By then I got it, but it didn’t matter to me. He was my coach. He just happened to be a gay male. Thankfully, for me, my dad was pretty accepting and could see I loved the experiences I was having.
This coach had a life long positive impact on my life. He was gay. I only say that because I think I was lucky enough to know this and have such a great experience that I grew up believing gay folks are great folks, and some folks are just assholes that judge you based on stupid stuff that has no correlation to anything.
I did grow up understanding that my gay friends face major prejudices and biases walking into life events that I don’t, even though they shouldn’t. We’ve come a long way since I was in seventh grade, but we still have such a long way to go.
I grew up an Ally without even knowing I was an Ally. I looked at those friends and mentors who were gay, not as gay friends and mentors, but as every other friend and mentor, I have in my life. My life is now filled with friends and family from the LGBTQ community and I’m so proud of the bravery these folks show every day. I hope that #Pride had a positive impact on you in June!