Mar 23, 2015 7:40 PM GMT
Georgia VoiceCHAMPAIGN, Illinois —Following a day-long party at an off-campus house, Cameron Rogers sat beside Fred Hartville as their gymnastics teammates found seats and formed a circle.
Hartville, of Atlanta, needed assistance the past three days after right knee surgery. Rogers took him to the hospital for the surgery, and Rogers let Hartville stay with him while he recuperated.
On that Saturday, May 3, 2014, Hartville possessed some mobility with crutches. So when Rogers took a seat beside Hartville, he could help him physically, but more importantly, he could provide moral support, too.
Hartville had news to tell the team.
All 19 members of the University of Illinois men’s gymnastics team formed a circle to conclude the 29th annual team pig roast. There’d been nearly 12 hours of drinking, hog cooking, and revelry when they gathered to reflect on their season.
Each person talked briefly. Hartville, a sophomore, wanted to be direct when his time to talk arrived, so he said, “I’m sad that the seniors are leaving, and I’m gay.”
The circle of men applauded.
“At that moment, I just kind of blacked out just from the excitement,” Hartville says. “It was that moment I felt free.”
For Matt Foster, applauding his teammate wasn’t enough. He stood up, walked over, and hugged Hartville.
“It was an honor to know that he was that comfortable with himself and us that he did it in such a powerful way around 18 strong-willed people,” Foster says. “We had his back, and he understood that.”
According to Leslie Morrow, the director of the University of Illinois LGBT Resource Center, Hartville is the first University of Illinois athlete to announce publicly he’s gay while an active athlete. Rogers never talked publicly about his sexuality previously.
Hartville’s now received acceptance from everyone in his life — including his grandma Barbara — and wonders why he waited to tell anyone. He’s also thankful Rogers provided the guidance that helped him only spend months instead of years hiding his sexuality.
“I don’t think I would have done the things that I’ve done — to come out or anything — if it wasn’t for him,” Hartville says. “He gave me that comfortability that I needed and that sense of reasoning that I needed.”