I was thrilled when I took the position of email marketing manager at Outside last October. I was looking forward to bringing my abilities to such a successful company. In reading the magazine for years, I noticed that it had gone from publishing stories mainly from the perspective of men and women, which I found very interesting. As I considered leaving NBC Sports, it was imperative that I join a company that would share my passions and embrace my values. Each week, Outside sends email to millions of subscribers, which means I am constantly hearing about our stories, sponsorships, and brand in general.
I jumped at the chance in May to write our Pride Month newsletter. The publication was acquired by Pocket Outdoor Media (now Outside Interactive, Inc.) in February, joining a team of publications that included Backpacker, Ski, Triathlete, Yoga Journal, and many more. The Outside Pride newsletter marked the first time that we featured different perspectives, stories, and experiences from across all of our brands in the Outside network, as part of my personal connection to the LGBTQ+ community.
But after I sent the email on Friday, June 17, the negative responses flooded in like a tsunami. Outside has continued to tell stories from LGBTQ+ and BIPOC perspectives, which has enraged many subscribers who are used to stories focusing on them – whether they know or not – and I had prepared myself for some backlash and hateful comments. The more Outside grows and evolves, the more our ideas about who we want to cover and what we want to cover change.
Email marketers frequently read feedback, but this time it struck a more personal chord with me because I am gay. Like the vicious comments I read that day at Outside, I have been bullied in school and spit on by strangers in the street throughout my entire life. But I hadn’t experienced them so intensely before. It didn’t feel like the comments were directed at me, but because I’m gay I felt they were.
A marketer’s job is to read feedback, but I found this feedback particularly poignant since I am gay.
As a child, I had a conservative father in the Air Force who had preconceived notions of what kind of man I should be: he wanted me to play football, hunt, date women, and be more aggressive. I loved soccer, volleyball, tennis, and swimming. I had a lot of girls who were friends, and I loved animals and conservation. Like most LGBTQ+ youth, I tried to prove myself, in every facet of my life, to seek my parents’ and peers’ approval. I was an honor-roll student and a multisport varsity athlete. I made a lot of friends, volunteered, and got a scholarship to college. But I was still unhappy every day. I did everything in my power to prove to everyone that I was straight, losing myself in the process. No matter what I did, everyone around me still questioned my sexuality.
It was not easy being a closed-minded gay athlete. The sports world lacked anyone to emulate. The stories about our experience are rare and unique: putting up with constant gender-based banter in school, becoming more aggressive in practice so as not to appear weak, and letting the funny remarks about “queer” or “fag” slip by without complaint. An athlete must face many challenges in the sports world as a gay individual. As a gay athlete and a gay man, I had no idea where I fit in. Despite being gay, I don’t consider myself to be that gay. There aren’t any people like me playing sports–what’s wrong with me?
Additionally, I experienced ridicule from many religious athletes who used their religion to justify discriminating against gays while thanking God for their own accomplishments. I thought, if athletes can praise God for their achievements, why is it always an issue when LGBTQ+ athletes praise our community for helping us persevere through our struggles and a sports environment that continuously puts us down? It was a double-edged sword I couldn’t fathom. These were challenges I faced every day. Little did I know, I wasn’t being myself; I was being who everyone else wanted me to be.
As my visibility increased, I felt stronger.
My true identity began to emerge in college as I studied LGBTQ+ history in the U.S. and abroad. First of all, I became proud of who I was. Neither did I conform to anyone’s expectations of who I should be nor how I should act. I felt seen and validated. The year I came out, gay marriage was legalized, and the women’s soccer team won the World Cup-and when they did, national TV showed some of the players kissing their partners in the stands. I finally had someone to look up to, someone we could all admire.
In addition to working for a company that would give me a chance to make a positive impact on our community, I was particularly interested in media. NBC Sports hired me as a sports reporter for the Olympics, and in the process I worked on coverage of the games. It was not only about coming out and succeeding in sports, but also about more LGBTQ+ athletes coming out. As my visibility increased, I felt stronger. The outdoors and sports have a huge impact on LGBTQ+ people.
With Outside, I have been humbled and impressed with the content our magazine, website, and sister brands have published about the LGBTQ+ community and its strides in the outdoor industry. The impact these documents have on LGBTQ+ youth and people around the country is not just because they contain great stories and rarely told perspectives, but also because of the positive effects they have on the community. My company learned of the hate mail I’d received, and immediately sent me an outpouring of appreciation for my hard work, my collaboration, and my resiliency. To share with all people the incredible outdoors experiences is why I took on this job. As a month dedicated to affirming our pride doesn’t refer to our sexuality, but rather to the struggles we’ve faced and the support we’ve received. Our experience will be shared, and it will be a time to celebrate our accomplishments. My inbox was flooded with hate, but subscribers and readers also expressed gratitude. It will have been worth it all if I can influence and help just one person. Continuing to share community perspectives will be my priority. Hopefully I will be able to show someone who feels alone that they are included, loved, and accepted outside by doing this.