Freshmen cross country and track runners Susie Poore and Michael Mitchell came out as gay during National Coming Out Day, on Oct. 11. The two athletes co-wrote an article published on OutSports.com, where they wrote about sexuality from their perspectives. The Brown and White sat down with Poore and Mitchell to discuss the hurdles they overcame to come out, reactions they have received after the article, and the friendship and confidence they found in each other along the way.
Q: What factors went into your decision to both come out so publicly in the media, especially as new students within the Lehigh community?
Susie Poore: (Mitchell) actually texted me one day and said, “Hey, I really need to talk to you about something,” and he came up to my room. He told me about the website that we did (the article) through — OutSports — and how he had been in contact with them about possibly doing an article with them and how he had met other athletes that have done it. He was considering doing it himself, but he wasn’t sure. He said he had seen joint articles, and somehow we got to the idea of, “Oh hey, it would be kind of cool if we possibly did this together.”
Michael Mitchell: The reason we chose to do it so publicly, personally, was — instead of just telling a couple of friends — it’s broader. When you come out, I feel like everyone should know. It’s something you should be proud of, and you don’t want to hide it anymore, so I didn’t want to hide it. It was sort of telling everyone and sharing our story with other people who may be going through difficulties. It helps.
Q: How have you leaned on each other for support both before and after coming out?
MM: It’s nice to always have someone to talk to — someone on the same team who is experiencing the same things. Even though we are on the women’s (and) men’s teams, both teams are very connected and have a lot of social events together, so we see each other a lot. We’re always hanging out together, and it’s nice that there is someone there who understands what you are going through, versus your teammates who have no idea.
SP: Obviously (our teammates) try, and it is really appreciated, but it is hard when they don’t personally understand themselves what it feels like. Especially leading up to it, obviously, we both had some nerves, so it was nice to talk to someone and say to each other, “OK, we’re going to get through this. We’ve got this. We’ve done this together.”
Q: What reactions have you received from your teammates and the overall community?
SP: I told my teammates on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11. I said in our GroupMe that morning, “Hey, you guys, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know all of you. It’s been amazing. I had the chance to do this article for National Coming Out Day, and I hope this lets you guys know me better.” They all read it and were immediately saying, “This is awesome, Susie, we’re so proud of you. Congratulations, this is so well-written,” so that was really nice to hear. Same thing with just general friends, family, even people I went to school with or people I kind of vaguely knew. It’s all been really, really great. I’ve had so many people reach out to me, and it has been better than I ever could have imagined.
MM: No one really cares. The biggest person who cared was myself. Everyone gave so much love and support. They’ve had no negative reactions at all.
Q: How do you think your story has encouraged other students and athletes to gain the confidence to come out?
SP: I had an old high school classmate reach out to me that day, and she wasn’t coming out or anything, but she just said, “You gave me more confidence in being myself, so thank you for that.” I’m just hoping that people see us taking this leap of faith and they realize it is OK to be yourself. There’s nothing for you to be afraid of because the best thing you can possibly do is be yourself.
MM: I’ve gotten feedback from everyone, from people all over the country, just saying how much they admired how brave we were and how honest we were with ourselves. I’ve had a lot of teammates come talk to me one-on-one and just say, “Hey, I thought this was really brave of you. It doesn’t change what we all think of you. We still love you.” It’s nice now. It feels like I’m more included on the team, more welcomed on the team and I feel closer with a lot of my teammates.
Q: What hurdles did you both have to overcome before making the decision to come out?
MM: It’s very public, and I was just concerned with how public it was and how everyone would know. I can’t hide it anymore, and if I’m going to do this, I have to be proud and wear it as a badge on my chest. I need to hold my head high.
SP: Before this article came out, I was out to most of my family and my good friends, so it’s not like people didn’t know at all. It’s just that this is so next-step and next-level, where people I barely know would be knowing about it. I guess since it is something so personal that I have struggled with for so long and that I just really came to terms with last year, that was daunting to think about. I ultimately came to the decision because this is me, and I want people to know me for me.
Q: Did it make it easier for you to both come out knowing you had someone in the same situation to lean on for support?
SP: It definitely does make it easier, having that support, because having your friends around you and supporting you is great, and I’m so grateful for all of the friends I have that supported me during this. But if they are not experiencing it themselves, obviously it’s a little bit different. So to have (Mitchell), who is going through the exact same situation as me, and knowing that he knows what I’m feeling and knows what this is like has definitely taken a lot of the stress off.
Q: Prior to coming out, did you feel restricted in being yourself with your teammates?
SP: I didn’t necessarily feel restricted. I was still myself for the most part, but whenever the conversation turned to relationships or things going on in people’s lives like that, I just felt kind of out of place because this was something most of them didn’t know about me, and I just wished that they did know. It’s not that I don’t want to be open about it or anything, it’s just that I never really felt like I could contribute when it came to those conversations, and I wanted to be able to, but I was still a little bit nervous. Ever since they reacted so positively, and having them genuinely asking me now, “Oh, do you have a girl in your life?” or stuff like that (has) helped a lot for me to feel more involved.
MM: It definitely helps me feel more involved. I’ve gotten a lot closer with some of my teammates after the article happened. I’ve just been so much more open with everything that’s going on in my life with my teammates now. It’s great. It’s nice to have.
Q: Is there anything else you want people to know?
MM: Honestly, the person who cares the most about this is yourself. No one will really react poorly or judge you for being yourself.
SP: At least for myself personally, I definitely made it out to be a much bigger thing than it actually was. I hyped it up so much, and I was so concerned with getting negative comments and was so concerned with things going poorly or with people reaching out and being negative about it, but really that was not what happened at all. Most people have said, “This is awesome. This is great. I’m so proud of you.” It’s not that they don’t care, but people are just like, “OK, cool. That’s awesome. Proud that you’re being you.” For people who are considering coming out or stuff like that, I think the most important thing to remember is that the people in your life that matter are going to love you for you, and coming out to them won’t change that.