High School Football Player Turns the Closet Inside-Out - Literally

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday September 8, 2021

Stock image
Stock image  (Source:Getty Images)

Among this summer's many affirming stories of LGBTQ+ athletes — from a record number of out Olympians in Tokyo to out athletes in cycling, baseball, and hockey — this one stands out: An openly gay 17-year-old high school football player showed his community how he's handled being outed, and it's a model for other youth.

Jake Streder, a high school senior in Aurora, Illinois, celebrated Pride by creating a "reimagined closet," which he and his mother constructed in a public space. "They took his closet doors, took out the panels, and reconstructed his childhood closet into something colorful and reaffirming," Outsports shared. Decorated with a rainbow paint job and hearts of every color, the open-air installation is surmounted with a crossbeam on which appear the words: "...and they showed that closet they were PROUD and would live happily ever after."

The artful reinterpretation of a symbol of oppression, fear, and silence has struck a chord; Outsports reports that Jake will be "receiving an award Saturday for the best display of Pride."

The young man's journey wasn't always so confident. "As a 15-year-old freshman, he'd told a friend that he was gay, but asked to keep it a secret," Queerty recounts.

""That didn't work: Soon the entire school was gossiping about Jake's sexuality," Queerty reported. "Jake was outed to his school and his parents. He also became the victim of harassment, enduring homophobic slurs at school."

The teen didn't know what being outed would mean for his high school football career, but according to Outsports, "on the first day of practice, he encountered 60 welcoming and supportive faces."

That support has been a constant. Jake penned an essay for Outsports in 2019 about being outed, and as part of the essay, he asked his teammates if they would appear with him in a team photo despite the existence of what Jake called "a 'gay by association' phobia" that, to high schoolers, is "a big unspoken thing."

Every one of his teammates agreed, and appeared in the photo.

"Their embrace of me was something I never expected after a year of anxiety and struggle of coming to terms with being gay," Jake wrote.

The "reimagined" closet stood as a testament to community support, while hundreds of Pride flags — provided by Jake and his mother Jen to more than 300 people who wanted one — flew overhead.

Another moment of Pride and acceptance: When his school, Matea Valley High, didn't mention Pride in the morning announcements this past June, Jake went to the office to remind them. "As soon as I went in, they announced it," he told Outsports.

Jake summarized his feelings about the importance of visibility, saying, "I just feel like it's a really important thing for people to know about and learn in general, and I don't think in schools we really get much of that...it's good to still know, and it's good to get out there."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.