As a lifelong Patriots fan, I am not comfortable with possibility of Michael Sam facing my team on the field.
When my best friend in high school told me late one night on the phone senior year that he "thinks he might be gay" I was un-phased. I believe I said, "Am I supposed to act surprised?" He was taken back.
"How do you know?!" He asked.
While it may not have been the most empathetic answer, the immature, 17-year-old-me qualified it to the trivial fact that his closet was impeccably organized, he was always perfectly groomed, did an amazing Whitney Houston impersonation, attacked school and all of his activities with a profound excellence that the vast majority of seventeen year olds struggle to achieve.
"Because all your jeans are folded like they are at The Gap!" I joked.
How did I really know? I still don't know exactly. But what I did know was that I needed him more than he needed me.
As a straight teenager, I was a lanky, scrawny kid that couldn't catch a ball in a sports-obsessed town. All I wanted to do was sing, play guitar and write songs, which seemed like a terrible and foolishly remote goal. I had very little faith in myself and saw no future in following my dreams. I could not belt like the kids in choir, I was horrible with girls; my other passion at the time. My obsession with music and song-writing felt like an impossible dream and a dead end.
Now as an adult, I can see clearly that the adolescent world judges you more by acquaintances, manufactured accolades and fear than by your own ideas and creations, but as a teenager it was toxic. Jon was different. In my best friend's eyes, I was judged by my on my character and ideas. I was seen for the first time as someone who wanted to write songs, sing them, get a girl, and dream big. I was told that it was possible and he was a constant source of reinforcement.
I didn't understand it at the time but Jon was my link to a community where being different meant that you were being true to yourself, and that alone was one of life's biggest accomplishments. However, that toxic teenage world we all get immersed in can be more harmful for a gay teen. At that time, Jon was investing hope and encouraging in his friends, but had no support system of his own.
Those dead ends I felt were a right of passage compared to what a gay teen felt like or faced in a sports town in the 1990s. It was easy for Jon to instill confidence in me and get me out of my own way. Of course, my goals were possible! For Jon, and thousands of LGBTQ teens like him, being out means facing a sexual orientation or gender identity that opens up a world scrutiny, judgment, alienation and possible danger. For Jon this meant getting physically and mentally destroyed at home by a father who would rather pretend you never existed than acknowledge and love you for who you are.
I am profoundly aware when attending events like TrevorLIVE in NYC or reading Jon's memoir how important a support system of a true friend can be as we fight for who we are. Its significance wasn't always apparent to me growing up. The fear of coming out can be crushing and scary. Not everyone can pull themselves out of that darkness and not everyone makes it. When a family or family member ostracizes a LGBTQ youth it is the community of friends around that young person who become the safety net.
As Jon pushed me out on stage, I pulled him along, as long as he dropped the Whitney impersonation and used his own, excellent real voice. When we all fought for love and equal rights in a free country it was Jon who married my wife and I. It was I who sang at his wedding when he married his husband. When I removed myself from a toxic business relationship and was left drifting out to sea as the songwriter, singer and performer, it was Jon that propped me up and became the executive producer for my album. An album about fighting to be free and who you are no matter what and last Monday I got to sit beside Jon and his husband when we celebrated the accomplishments of The Trevor Project and a global community.
Someone who can give and show love despite being disowned by their family, and an entire world that would possibly turn their back on them, that is courage. That is the country I want to live in. The home of the brave. Having a friend at your side through life who has made it through that darkness and achieved greatness; that is a friend, inspiration, hope and perspective I need when I am lost in doubt.
Becoming a real man in America is tricky. Jon was the first friend to acknowledge an encourage me in my chosen profession as a songwriter and singer. In my darkest time in this business he has always be a source of light and strength. Seeing him fighting to be himself, empowers me to be myself. To do what my friend, and LBGT community as a whole has achieved in the climate of discrimination is true courage, and the best display of American ideals. It has taught me how to be a better artist, husband, father and citizen. The momentum of LGBT rights, awareness and acceptance is the success story that we need to hang our collective national pride on to usher us through current crises of environment, international turmoil and economic inequality.
When the autumn arrives, the players on the other side of the line of scrimmage from Michael Sam should cower. He is rooted in himself with a confidence of character that a straight man doesn't always know they need to earn. You are forced to be excellent when you are in the minority that is maligned by a portion of society. The story of the LGBT community is a story of strength, endurance and compassion that leads all of us into this 21st century with a win for generations to come.