I’ve always said that being in the closet about anything — and that means lying about any aspect of your life — is a terrible thing with which to live. Those closeted, in denial, people tend to make decisions based on their lies, their closets, and live to regret them. Like the gay man, or woman, who marries, heterosexually speaking, because they think it’s expected, it’s what they should do, it’ll keep their secret safe. It doesn’t always work out like that and Micah Porter is a shining example.
Porter lived the textbook life; good student, great athlete; he had a wife, two children, a job he loved; he was a four-time Colorado state champion head coach for cross-country and track & field, and had won awards for excellence in teaching, including being named Teacher of the Year. He was also a closeted gay man, suffering depression as a result of his secret. He sought counseling to figure out what was wrong and medicated himself to deal with his decisions.
"I knew why I was depressed. I knew it was because of my sexuality. I felt incredibly guilty for continuing to have the feelings while being married. I felt like a fraud."
"It was hard to see her in pain because of that. In many ways, the guilt I'd been harboring for years for being gay was replaced by the guilt of hurting her."
He’d gotten a mixed response from the administration when came out as gay to them in 2010. While there was never a doubt that he could keep his job, continue teaching and coaching, he was actually advised not to go into the boys’ locker room anymore; if he needed something from the locker room, he should have an assistant coach take care of it.
"Every day I have to go into a bathroom to change. It's a reminder that I'm a second-class citizen in a school I've given so much to."
"We have a general rule that our teachers and coaches don't discuss their personal lives with their students or athletes. The kids don't want to hear about your personal life, and neither do the parents. They just want you to coach or teach their child. … I support Micah 150%. I always have and I always will. I don't have a bad word to say about the guy. He's a great coach, he's a great teacher."—Jerry McWhorter, the school athletic director
And yet, as happens when you try to keep a secret, the news that maybe Coach Porter was gay began to come out. See, Micah Porter, now free to live his life the way he wanted, began dating another man, Brandan Rader, whom he had met when Radar gave a speech at another school encouraging LGBT students to accept their sexual orientation.
Micah Porter asked Rader to lunch, and they have been together since. And, as couples are apt to do, they went about their lives together; they walked around town together, shopped together, dined together; with the coach, the recently divorced coach, being seen out and about in the company of the same man for a couple of years, people began to talk. And the talk trickled down to the student body; in fact, Micah’s daughter, now a freshman at the University of Denver, was asked by a runner if her dad was gay; the basketball coach was asked by his team about if Porter was gay.
"When people ask, I tell them. My closest friends at school know, and I tell them they can tell whomever they want. It's a major part of who I am as a person, but it's not the defining part. I'm a coach, I'm a teacher, I'm a dad, I'm Brandan's partner. I happen to be gay, but it's not something I need to put on a billboard."
When a private high school tried to recruit him to be their new cross-country coach, Porter wondered that, if he took the job, they could fire him for being gay. He spoke to a lawyer who said he should tell the leaders at this Christian school that he was gay, hoping it would prevent problems down the road. His plan worked; he never heard from the school again.
"Ultimately, I need to take charge of the decision. That's been a change in personality for me since I came out. I'm not going to let others decide how I should embrace who I am as a person. I let that happen for too long in my life."
He was received by silence. A few seconds later, one of the team leaders stood up, shook his hand, told him it didn't matter; then he asked about practice. The rest of the team laced up their shoes and followed suit.
"It was a positive moment for me and for them as young men and for us as a young team. After all that worry, it was a non-issue for them."
"I wake up every day excited about life and my job and my relationship with Brandan. We bought a house together. We're building a life together. There are parts of my life I hope to repair, but I take better care of myself, I have so much more confidence than I ever have in my life. For the first time in a long time, I've had people tell me I look happy. For the first time in a long time, I am."
As I said, coming out of the closet isn’t just telling those around us that we’re gay; it’s also telling ourselves, and realizing that we’re okay, and that we deserve happiness, just like anyone else.