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What College Athlete Byron Perkins’ Coming Out Means to Me

by Judy Bokao

IMAGE CREDIT: Byron Perkins

On October 19th, Byron Perkins, a student and D1 athlete at Hampton University, took to Instagram to speak his truth.

In his Instagram post, he wrote, “I’ve decided that I’m going to make a change, and stop running away from myself.” He further clarified his statement saying, “I’m gay, let it be known that this is not a ‘decision’ or a ‘choice.’ Yes, this is who I am, this is who I’ve been, and this is who I’m going to be. Simply put, I am who I am.”

Perkins plays as a defensive back for the university and is the first Black player at an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) D1 team to come out publicly. In his Instagram post, he went on to say, “I’ve been self-reflective and trying to prioritize what makes me happy and makes me feel alive. I thought it could just be football and school, but there was a component missing.”

He explained further, “And recently, I’ve been able to figure out that I haven’t been fully happy because everyone didn’t know who I was. Authenticity is everything to me. I have come to understand that life is precious and I could be gone at any moment, therefore, I will no longer be living a lie. No one should have to live a life crippled by what society thinks.”

It seems he has been battling with his decision whether to come out publicly or not- being a student in sports in the past and even now is often not welcoming of the LGBTQ + community. There have been cases of stigma, bullying in locker rooms, and even losing draft selections over your sexuality. It is no wonder that Byron was hesitant.

Byron emotionally shared the toll living while hiding his true self took on him. In his groundbreaking post, he stated, “I have been told on many occasions that I walk around looking as if I’m upset. This is not because I am an angry person, but because I have put on a mask, a mask that has restricted me. Today, I am destroying that mask.”

Byron is right about the mental and emotional toll staying in the closet can bring. There is always the paralyzing fear of being ostracized by family, friends and even at work. There is also the inner struggle to find personal happiness but the burdening worry of how this choice will affect others.

Byron went on to thank the people around him who knew his sexuality and supported him. “For the friends and family that have known and supported me to this point, thank you, and for the friends and family that I will lose… Thank you too. You have all helped me in the process of building the young man I am today.” I am glad he is receiving support from those close to him and has a strong support system to fall on.

In his interview with OutSports following his Instagram post, he said that the reception of the news among his teammates has been mixed. He noted that his coaches have supported him and he hopes that more young Black men who are struggling with their sexuality, especially in HBCUs, will come out. He hopes that they can be themselves and know that they can have the support they need. The 22-year-old said he hopes his story and his decision to come out as the first Black player in HBCU will help to end the stigma.

In his interview with OutSports, he also touched on the issue of religion and sexuality. He is a Christian and understands how that can influence someone’s decision to come out and be themselves. Asked about his beliefs, he said, “You can be gay and be religious.”

It is brave for Perkins to come out publicly and share his opinions on these matters. He is showing other young men who are looking up to him or hoping to follow his career path that they can be themselves. He is sending a message to student athletes everywhere that it is okay to be true to yourself. Most importantly, he is letting them know that it is okay to choose to be happy and not to let society dictate who they can love.

I find beauty in his desire to be honest with himself and the public. I find inspiration in the way he chose to find his happiness and I am in awe of his willingness to pave the way for other young Black players in HBCUs. I truly hope that many more will see his story and feel safe to be themselves and, as he said, destroy the “mask.”

About the Author:

Judy Bokao was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.

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