12-year-old Braeden Lange was in a group chatroom with about fifteen friends when he said “enough is enough” to the homophobic jokes kids are so prone to firing at each other like spitballs.
“I just blurted it out because I didn’t want to have to deal with all the stress. I said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with being gay, because I am gay.'”
It was a bold move for the young lacrosse player, and news traveled fast around his school.
Since Braeden’s mom receives her kids’ texts via her iPad, Braeden unwittingly came out to his family also.
“It started dinging, like over and over and over again…it’s texts from his friends and they all say the same thing — ‘are you really gay?'” Braeden’s mom recounted to ESPN.
“I’m embarrassed to say it was like a punch in the gut,” his dad remembers, adding, “there’s a list of questions you’re not supposed to ask and I asked every single one of them.”
After the initial surprise, Braeden’s family fully embraced him. School was a different story, though, where he was regularly bullied.
“One person said ‘do you suck d-word for money?’ I think that was the worst,” Braeden said.
Through the constant harassment, Braeden withdrew completely, choosing to be alone in his room whenever possible. He’d tell his parents, “I wish I was normal,” and admits to having thoughts of suicide.
A month later, Braeden’s dad found a decade-old profile of Andrew Goldstein, the former professional lacrosse player who made headlines when he came out in 1995, becoming the first American male team-sport professional athlete to be openly gay during his playing career. He shared it with Braeden.
“It really gave me some hope knowing that if he could do it, I could probably do it too,” Braeden remembers.
Braeden’s dad reached out to Goldstein, who is now a post-doctoral researcher at UCLA, via email to see if there was a chance he’d talk with Braeden.
Andrew sent Braeden a video message, telling him, “You’re the bravest kid I’ve ever heard of.” He also sent Braeden the helmet he wore during the period he came out. “I think it belongs with you so you know I stand with you,” Andrew told him.
From that moment on, Braeden went back to being his optimistic 12-year-old self again.
Their correspondence continued, blossoming into a friendship. Andrew wanted to do more for Braeden and others in similar circumstances.
Andrew reached out to friends in the lacrosse community and organized the first ever Courage Game to support gay youth and promote acceptance on and off the field.
“I felt like almost unstoppable, because I had so many people standing with me, and just making me feel like I’m back to normal,” Braeden told ESPN. “That I still fit in. I’m still the same person.”