Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Coach Comes Out

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."
And he didn’t like that feeling, of not being his true self; he was almost forty and he’d lived a life that wasn’t the one he wanted, that wasn’t the one he’d hoped for; a life that wasn’t really his. And even though he’d always dated women, and even though he married a woman and fathered two children, Micah Porter knew he wasn’t being honest about himself. And in 2009, he told his wife that he had an idea about why he was depressed, where it was coming from, and why.
"I'm gay."
Her reaction was really the typical one; silence, followed by disbelief and concern, anger and hurt. She had spent years married to this man and now, suddenly, he was telling her he was gay. It took time, but she began to understand that Micah was, at last, being truthful, and over the course of several months, the couple talked to their children about their father’s sexual orientation, separated and finally divorced.
"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."
And everything changed; Micah Porter was a single dad, living in an apartment and struggling to make ends meet. But for the first time in his life, Porter was himself, and now he felt that same need to tell other people. And, even though he was a highly respected track and field coach, and an excellent teacher, Porter wondered what life, and his work, might be like if he told his employer, his co-workers, and if he could, or even should, tell his students, and his team that he was gay.

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.

Now, the administration said their ‘advice’ had nothing to do with any concern about Porter’s behavior, but rather from the potential for false accusations that might be leveled at him; it was feared that a parent or student might use Porter's sexual orientation against him by falsely accusing him of improprieties in the locker room. It was decided that Micah Porter would stay away from the locker room, and that, because of that new rule, he would have to change from his teacher clothes to his coaching uniform in a school bathroom.
"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."
It was also suggested that he keep the news of his sexual orientation to himself; to basically stay in the closet that had, for years, fed his depression. Although some co-workers knew he was gay, especially after the divorce, no one thought he should tell his students; they did not want his team to know.
"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."
And yet, because of the advice from the administration, Porter hadn’t said a word about it to his team, and he believed that maybe coming out to them wasn’t a good idea, even though he wanted to be open out his sexual orientation.

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.

And so, last week, against the advice of the school the administration, and the athletic director, Micah Porter decided to come out. He’d wanted to take a proactive role in making the school a more welcoming place for LGBT students and since almost the entire staff knows he’s gay, and with counselors asking him to talk to students struggling with coming out, the time was right.
"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."
Porter called his team together before practice and told them he had some news. He let them know that an article about him would be coming out — the source for this post, in OutSports — and that the article discussed him being gay.

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."
And despite his concerns, Jerry McWhorter hasn’t had one complaint from the team, or any parents, about Micah Porter being gay.
"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.


the dogs' mother said...

Another happy ending. Hope his former wife found one too.

Ron said...

Absolutely the best thing to do, come out. Nothing will kill homophobia faster than people like this coach coming out. We have to move past the gay pride parades and have "regular" gay folk come out.....and proud. said...

Another wonderful story.
Another wonderful post.
Thanks for sharing!

anne marie in philly said...

does the coach get the special manual and toaster oven too?

YAYZ to this man and the school/students for acceptance!

Debbie said...

I agree with Ron. I cannot think of anything more horrible than to live an inauthentic life. Even though there are people who still have major issues with the gay community, the more people that bravely come out, the more people will realize that gay people are the same as themselves. One day, I really believe, there will be no issue about one's lifestyle.

Biki Honko said...

Even though I've only told a few people about being trans, it made a huge impact on my mental state. Hiding takes such a toll on the psyche.

Glad for this man and his new and happy life. It's wonderful that his children still love him as well.