“It’s a closet so small you literally can’t move. No turning, no bending, no squatting, nothing. Along with the pitch black atmosphere, there are sharp needles pointing at you everywhere and any time you make too big of a movement it jabs you. Some jabs hurt more than others. For those who are or were in the closet, we became masters of standing still and hiding from the world.”
With these words, South Dakota’s first openly gay high school coach has come out — and now many wonder how the Dell Rapids Catholic high school where Nate Alfson coaches will respond.
In a piece published by OutSports, the baseball and volleyball coach told his story of being a closeted gay athlete. A hyper-masculine and homophobic sports culture put Alfson on edge: “When you aren’t openly gay and you are an athlete or a coach, any subtle tell turns into an insecurity.” Other players’ suggestions that he might be gay or listening to teammates’ conversations about women caused Alfson a great deal of uncomfortability. Now, in the article, he is introducing himself anew to the world and to the athletes he coaches:
“I identify myself as a gay, Christian, athlete with a lot of different interests. I am writing my story to share with the world that it is OK to be who you are born as and feel confident about it. I have found that there are other people in the world just like me and I don’t have to feel alone any longer. I am a proud openly gay man with a great job as a program coordinator for an agency that serves adults with disabilities.”
Alfson played baseball while attending Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he felt increasingly “insecure and lonely” as a closeted gay Christian. He sought close friendships, which would allow him to confide in someone about his sexual orientation, while, at the same time asking God to ‘cure’ him of being gay. Being outed was a “daily fear” for Alfson. You can read a full account of his struggles in college by clicking here.
In 2012, Alfson decided to come out to family and friends, and since then he has broadened the circle of those to whom he is out. He writes:
“It was hard at first to be able to accept being gay and actually say it out loud. My friendships have become stronger than ever. I have now been accepted and embraced by some former teammates and coaches, some athletes I’ve coached, family friends, family members and all my closest friends. The freedom and happiness that comes along with being yourself is like nothing I’ve ever felt before…
“I used to believe that my happiness was being successful as an athlete and by making other people happy; a people-pleaser to the max. After coming out, and freely talking about who I am, I found what true happiness actually was. My burden lifted, I have never felt ‘lighter’ in my life. Being cared about by others is a great and necessary feeling, but caring about yourself is even important. The quote that says you can’t love someone else without first loving yourself is true.”
However, Alfson also writes about a potentially troubling situation: his employment at St. Mary High School, Dell Rapids, South Dakota, where he had not been out. The coach admits it could be a potential challenge, but is “confident it will work out for the best and the Earth will still keep turning regardless of the outcome.”
In a separate article, OutSports raises the same question and offers advice to school administrators:
“They would be smart–and they would be Christian–to praise him for being his true self and continuing to work with him to empower youth to explore their beliefs as he coaches them through the physical challenges of high school sports.
“The question will be whether the school focuses on the first couple of books in the Holy Bible, or whether they let the actual words of Jesus Christ guide their decisions. Gay coaches have been fired by Christian schools in the past. This is the Catholic school’s opportunity to turn the tide of acceptance.”
In the video below, OutSports founder Cyd Zeigler asks, “Whether firing someone because they’re gay is really the Christian thing to do.”
Alfson closes with advice for closeted LGBT athletes, and really advice for us all:
“My advice to closeted gay athletes or anyone who may be struggling with themselves would be to first take a deep breath and know that there are people in the world who care about you and understand what you’re going through…
“We are all in this together and we can change this fear inside ourselves one story at a time. Make a difference in the world by being kind to one another and don’t be afraid to do good deeds to those around you. A smile goes a long way. Be you, be true, and never forget that you matter.”
Let us pray that administrators at St. Mary High School in South Dakota will embrace Alfson’s authenticity, faith, and wisdom as being beneficial for the students he coaches.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry