On Thursday, October 8, history was made as college basketball welcomed the first openly gay basketball coach to Division I. Chris Burns, the assistant head basketball coach for Bryant College in Rhode Island, announced his statement ahead of his team’s upcoming first game of the season against defending NCAA champs Duke. Burns’ historic decision to rid himself of his secret is an empowering message being heard around the world that is adding to the conversation of LGBT equality, inspiring individuals of all ages and aspects of diversity to be themselves, exactly as who they are.
In an article posted to OutSports.com, Burns writes of his experiences and his challenges as a closed gay man. He writes, “Sports was always a place I couldn’t be me. Basketball gave me a very secure identity at a young age, which was crucial, but as I grew older, it became a juxtaposition between the accolades of my on-court success and the fear created by being gay.” Before his coaching position at Bryant University, Burns was a successful basketball player himself at the college, but struggled with his sexual identity. He faced difficulty within himself and who he wanted to be and he lived a continuous lie to himself and the world around him throughout high school and college because of the fear of being outed and having those around him learn of his identity as gay. The closed experience was extremely difficult as Burns writes, “That’s what the closet does to you, and it did it to me in the worst way: Detaching from my family and my best friend.”
As time continued to pass, Burns continued the journey of self-acceptance with great assistance and positive influence from a strong social support group around him. Recent social achievements paved the way for building up Burns’ personal courage to come out of the closet. He notes, “The Supreme Court decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage was probably the time when I knew without a doubt that I was going to do this. When I saw how powerful it was for people, and when I had the time to sit and think about how this affects me and has shaped my own journey in life, it became a no-brainer.”
With Chris beginning his time of coming out and being true to himself, he has learned that the fears of his decision did not come true. “Since I started telling people in college basketball over the last few months,” Burns writes, “I’ve realized my fears were far worse than reality. I’ve realized that people, for the most part, are human beings first. For a guy who’s relatively cynical and can be negative, the reactions of people in my sport and in my life have shut me right up and reenergized my hope in the human spirit, in empathy.”
Chris wants his story to be a message of encouragement for those facing similar circumstances that he has faced throughout the years. He explains, “Like the people before me, I hope my story empowers someone, even if it’s just one person. But it’s a process for everyone.
My advice: Take your time and be comfortable. Everyone’s personal journey is special and unique, and no one should feel pressure to do anything they aren’t comfortable with.
But always know this: When the time comes to share your true self, you will feel so much love and relief and hope and freedom. It’s a truly special feeling, and I just can’t thank enough every single person who has helped guide and support me to this point.”
Thank you for being brave, strong, and courageous Chris and may your light continue to shine bright.
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