Last month, 19-year-old Villanova University swimmer Ryan Murtha (pictured) gathered his teammates together before practice to share a secret he had been living with for years, OutSports reports. It was a secret he had didn’t think he could ever tell anyone, given his Roman Catholic upbringing, his work with the Boy Scouts of America, and the fact that he was on a college sports team.
Standing in front of the entire Villanova men’s swim team, Murtha pulled out the letter he had written beforehand. After nervously clearing his throat, he read:
So this is tough for me and I apologize for taking so long to tell you guys this, but it took me forever to admit to myself and then it’s been really hard to work up the courage to say it.
I’m gay. I’ve tried to bury this part of myself for a long time but slowly grew to accept it over the past year and a half. I want you guys to know that this isn’t something that I chose. I was just born with it.
Anyway, I want you to know that I’m still the same person that I’ve been. I hope you guys don’t see me any differently because of this. I don’t think it should define me totally; it’s just one of many parts that make up who I am.
But if for whatever reason you don’t like me because of this, I guess I can’t blame you because for a long time I hated myself for being gay, too. I made myself believe that living with this shame was worth not losing any of my friendships. But I don’t want to be ashamed anymore. And I’ve kind of felt like I wouldn’t be able to 100% accept myself and move on until I could be truthful with my friends. That’s you guys. So if you’re down to stick around and still be my friend, I can’t even begin to say how grateful I would be.
If you have any questions or if you want to talk to me about it, feel free.
When he was finished, the room was absolutely silent.
“I was pretty terrified,” Murtha tells OutSports. “Forever I had played this in my head over and over again. That little pause after I finished speaking, all of the worst-possible scenarios played through my head. What if they didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore?”
Much to his relief, none of those scenarios happened.
Moments later, one of his teammates broke the silence by clapping. Then another one joined in. And another. Soon, everyone was applauding, offering Murtha’s hugs and high fives and letting him know that his sexuality wouldn’t have any impact on how they felt towards him.
“Obviously, it turned out well in the end,” he says.
So well, in fact, that the whole team decided to hit Chipotle for a burrito-infused, post-coming out fiesta.
At Chipotle, his teammates again reassured Murtha that everything was cool and that they accepted him no matter what.
Murtha says that since coming out to his teammates, he’s also found the courage to come out to his parents, though he admits they are still struggling with it. He also had to quit the Boy Scouts, since the organization bans openly gay people from working with youth.
“It seems hypocritical not letting gay leaders into the Scouts,” he says. “The Scout Law lays it out pretty clearly. ‘A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.’ The policy prohibiting gay people goes against a lot of those points.”
But he’s not letting that get the best of him. Murtha says he hopes that by sharing his story will help encourage others to do the same.
“I want to be able to help people going through the same thing that I did,” he says. “If sharing my story can help just one person, then it will be worth it.”