A professional rugby player in the U.S. has ended 2020 by publicly revealing he is gay. He hopes that by coming out he can inspire others to live their authentic lives.
Devin Ibañez played rugby in college for the University of Massachusetts, and then for the Major League Rugby team, New England Free Jacks, in 2019.
He is now hoping to be picked by an English team to be closer to his boyfriend, a British medical student, Fergus Wade. The two met in 2017 whilst Wade was studying at Harvard.
Ibañez posted a lengthy Facebook post yesterday about himself and his decision to speak out now.
“As 2020 comes to a close everyone is looking ahead to 2021 and setting new goals. This year it became increasingly difficult to find things I could take control of,” he said.
“Many things felt out of my control and it was hard not to feel helpless and at times hopeless. I took the time to reflect on my life and what aspects I could control and make positive changes to that would impact my day to day life and happiness.
“It became clear to me that living my life with more transparency and openly celebrating who I love would have an immediate positive impact on me and those I care about. So I want to start 2021 by celebrating the love of my life and my partner Fergus Wade who has been with me through the highs and the (very) lows of the last three years.
“I am openly gay. This is something that is not a secret to those close to me and even several people not close to me. But I always felt a need to keep it separate from my rugby career.
“I always came up with a reason why being more vocal would be a distraction, detrimental, or unnecessary. I told myself that if I achieved a certain level of success that I would use that platform to show proudly who I was in hopes of inspiring others to be true to themselves.
“As the years went by no level of success was enough to justify potentially losing opportunities within the sport, jeopardizing relationships, or making myself a target on the pitch. The final goal became ‘Once I sign a pro contract I will be more vocal and become the first openly gay MLR player.’
“As the day came and went that I signed a contract with the MLR, I moved the goalposts even further. I told myself that I needed to secure a starting spot and long term role in the organization first. Partly due to fear of backlash, but largely fueled by a narrative I told myself that unless I left no doubt about deserving my spot that I would be viewed as a token and not a true professional.
“I ended up falling short of the new goal I set for myself and I was devastated to say the least. I felt I had failed not only myself, but those I sought to inspire. But as time has gone on it’s become clearer to me that it was never about the achievements. There would always be naysayers despite what I did or accomplished. I had been separating rugby and my personal life/sexuality since I was in high school because I didn’t wanna be known as ‘that gay rugger’.
“I wanted my ability and passion for the game to stand alone, not in the shadow of my sexuality.
“But what I considered as casting a shadow I’ve slowly realized can also act as a beacon. So I have decided to embrace what I once felt embarrassed of and be proudly and shamelessly myself. I have met some incredibly talented LGBTQ rugby players over the years, many of whom were blackballed from playing a high level solely due to being gay.”
“As of now I am the only openly gay rugby player to earn a contract with an MLR side (At least I haven’t heard of any others, would love to talk with anyone who has.) I hope that I will meet others Iike myself playing a high level of rugby and hoping to inspire the next generation of proud LGBTQ rugby players. So I will proudly call myself ‘that gay rugger’ in hopes that one day it won’t sound strange in men’s rugby. And because I know that I am much more than just that gay rugby player, and more than just someone obsessed with rugby.”
Ibañez and Wade have now set up an Instagram account called @thatgayrugger to share photos of their life. Ibañez also posted several images of himself and his boyfriend, “living our best life together to make the homophobes in my friends list cringe.”
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He said he hopes he can change the sport he loves to be more welcoming to gay players.
After posting his message, Ibañez told Outsports, “everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive and amazing. I’ve even gotten some messages from players who played on the same teams as me who told me a bit about their own stories. And that’s all I really want. Just to connect with those who had similar experiences and hopefully inspire those who are going through the same things.”