Former college athlete moved by Orlando shooting comes out publicly

I never had the courage that I would have liked to come out as an athlete. Not because I had feared rejection. I had such amazing teammates and coaches that there's no doubt in my mind that they would have readily and openly accepted me without even thinking twice. It was just something that I wasn't ready to do at the time.

Gradually, I accepted myself and began telling more of my family and friends though still remaining one foot in and one foot out. I knew, however, as I continued to grow more comfortable, I would soon be completely open and honest with everyone. But I didn't know exactly when. Then Orlando happened.

 So last week, I posted this on Facebook:

In the wake of the tragic events in Orlando, I wanted to post something that's probably worth sharing. This attack occurred at an LGBT nightclub over 2500 miles away from me but it felt much closer to me than the last 133 mass shootings this year and the countless others in the years prior.

And that's because I'm gay. Always have been, always will be.

Yet, it's something I struggled with growing up and even into my 20s. I grew up in a world where being gay was seen as a weakness. I grew up in a world where being gay was seen as unmasculine.

So when my dad passed away from cancer when I was young, leaving me with a mom and three sisters, I thought I couldn't possibly be gay. Because I needed to be strong. Because I needed to be the man of the house. So I lied to myself and denied who I really was.

But then you meet people. You meet people who are comfortable with who they are. You meet people who don't let one component of themselves define who they are. And that really, really helps. Then you learn to love and accept yourself.

Admittedly, it took me longer than I would have liked but today I could not be more happy or proud of who I am. And I would change nothing.

I'm so fortunate to be a part of a loving and caring family while being surrounded by terrific friends. And it's so strange, and so sad to me that this is not the case for everyone.

Last weekend's horrific attack reminds us of just how much hate exists in our world. But in the aftermath of these all too familiar tragedies — through the hashtags of support from all around the globe, through the candle light vigils, and to all those waiting hours in line to donate blood, we learn that hate is weak. And we learn that love always wins.

Always.

But love requires action. And it's my hope that the deadliest, most hateful mass shooting in American history can finally bring about a change in our laws to help prevent the next one. Or at the very least make our right to live greater than a suspected terrorist's right to buy a gun.

And if you still think that we don't have a gun problem in our country after tragedy after tragedy, then you are in absolute denial. And believe me, I know a thing or two about what that's like.

You just need to accept it, then we can work together on sensible solutions and I promise it will get better.

I received nothing but love and support from my family, friends, and former teammates.  And while that made me feel good, I'm still very much shaken by the horrific events that led to me sharing my story.

Visibility — now more than ever —is important for our LGBT community. Coming out and freeing yourself from the fear of being who you are is one of the best ways to defeat hate and change hearts and minds.

And that's something I learned here on Outsports. So thank you to all the brave and talented athletes that came before me and shared their story.  You helped me without even knowing it.

John Pickhaver, 26, ran cross country and track for Villanova University from 2009-2013 where he got his B.A. in Political Science. He received his MFA Writing and Producing for TV at Loyola Marymount University in 2016, where he also ran track. He lives in Los Angeles and works in television. He can be followed on Twitter (@JohnPickhaver) or reached via email (johnpickhaverjr@gmail.com). He still runs about 10 miles a day and plan to start competing in road races in the near future.

This has been reposted from Outsports.com.