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What This Standing Ovation For a High Schooler’s Coming Out Means

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By Greg Seals on January 23, 2013

Jacob Rudolph, a high school senior in Parsippany, New Jersey, made a decision that would leave most closeted LGBT teens beyond petrified.

At his school awards ceremony last Friday, Jacob won the award for Class Actor. In front of a crowd of more than 300 individuals — including parents, teachers, and his peers — he turned his acceptance speech into a moment of personal bravery and transparency that should serve as a model.

TowleRoad transcribed the best bits:

“Sure I’ve been in a few plays and musicals, but more importantly, I’ve been acting every single day of my life. You see, I’ve been acting as someone I’m not. Most of you see me every day. You see me acting the part of straight Jacob, when I am in fact LGBT teen. Unlike millions of other LGBT teens who have had to act every day to avoid verbal harassment and physical violence, I’m not going to do it anymore. It’s time to end the hate in our society and accept the people for who they are regardless of their sex, race, orientation, or whatever else may be holding back love and friendship. So take me, leave me, or move me out of the way. Because I am what I am, and that’s how I’m going to act from now on.”

Jacob deserves every bit of that standing ovation he received and more. Most high school students in his position are still struggling with their sexuality, let alone the decision of acknowledging it in such a public way. Sure, it takes courage of some caliber for celebrities to step out of the closet, but they step into the warm, waiting, and welcoming spotlight of an increasingly LGBT-friendly media estate. It’s an action that’s always carefully orchestrated by vast teams of PR teams. In 2013, it’s hardly taking a risk by proclaiming your sexuality on a People or Us cover or through a book deal.

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Rather, it takes an entirely different kind of bravery and confidence to step forward in front of your entire high school and declare your sexuality in such an assertive way. Jacob’s erudite acceptance-turned-coming out speech is everything Jodie Foster’s fumbled to be. It’s a concise proclamation of his true person, a shedding of the closeted life he once led, and a powerful rebuking of society’s fears fostered by our collective differences.

As a guy that spent my high school years in the closet, I ducked my head and hoped to make it out quickly and with as little speculation of my sexual preferences as possible. Granted, I didn’t make any grand attempts to camouflage my sexuality with a girlfriend or any marked interest in sports, but by the same token I wasn’t standing up for the one sophomore at my private Catholic high school who did make the brave decision to come out, for fear of having my sexuality indicted by association. The closest I came to bullying was the stray “gay” or “faggot” tossed around with my name in the hall between class, or seeing my name crudely scrawled on a stall wall under the heading “List of faggots” during my senior year. I cried for a few minutes, smudged my name out, and went on with my life.

As of late 2012, I finally came out to the two people who know me the best: my parents. While I was expecting to comfort them through the tears, I was the one choked up so hard I could barely force those two simple words out of my throat. I’ll never know the type of bravery it took for Jacob to deliver that speech in front of his entire high school, but it’s promising that more and more students are summoning that strength. For so many LGBT teens who take similar action, they aren’t met with a standing ovation from their peers. There are coming-outs that are never celebrated, because they’re overshadowed by bullying. There are kids that never even get the chance to share that part of themselves, because they take their own lives out of fear and torment.

I hope President Obama’s words of inclusion at Monday’s inauguration mark a continued course of change for gay rights in this country, and I hope the reception Jacob received from his high school community marks a continued societal change for the better. A standing ovation for Jacob. Imagine that.

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