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A gay hockey player scored an LGBTQ victory at his Illinois high school.
Anthony Arnoni, a senior at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Ill., was voted homecoming king by his fellow students.
The 17-year-old student athlete, who played on his school's hockey team as a defenseman for four years, shared the "surreal" experience in an op-ed for Outsports, which recounted his coming-out journey.
"As I stood there in September with all of my football, hockey and baseball player friends from East Leyden High School, I was thinking of what a beautiful thing it was that all of those people defied the stereotypical 'athlete' attitudes towards LGBT people and how I wish this level of acceptance was worldwide," Arnoni wrote.
Arnoni revealed that watching a coming-out YouTube video from gay wrestler Dylan Geick made him realize "I was not alone" and spurred him to come out to his high school classmates several months ago.
However, this coming-out process was not easy. The Illinois native first felt "mentally separated" from his ice hockey teammates in his youth, and these feelings left him "very resentful and angry," and he actively repressed them. When he became a teenager, the "locker room conversations about girls" pulled these thoughts back to the surface. "It hurt having to lie every time I got asked what girls I liked or found attractive," he shared.
His anxiety only heightened once Arnoni entered high school and joined the varsity hockey team. "Every last millimeter of my head space had been overtaken by anxiety on what I was going to do next," recounted Arnori. "I didn't know if I wanted to come out in high school or wait until after. I didn't know how my friends would react."
It was the YouTube video from Geick, a Chicago native, that finally gave him the courage to speak his truth. "Seeing someone about the same age, from around the same place allowed me to see a future that was quite difficult for me to conceptualize at first," he wrote.
Inspired, Arnoni came out to a close friend, then his family, and then his school (and his hockey team) through an Instagram post March 24. "For many years, I've been playing a role, or hiding behind, someone who I am not. I have recently been able to proudly, and more comfortably, acknowledge who I am," he wrote at the time.
Despite his worst fears, the reaction from his friends and family members was positive. The comments of the Instagram post are filled with hundreds of messages of support, and he revealed he did not lose a single friend due to his sexual orientation.
In his Outsports op-ed, Arnoni wrote how affirming it was to be crowned homecoming king after coming out as gay -- and how he hopes his story will inspire others who suffered from similar anxieties.
"I feel as if the whole team feels the positive aftermath of how our friend group, school, and community changed after I came out," he wrote. "My homecoming experience confirmed that when I received so much love. It made me feel almost foolish for thinking I wasn't going to be OK."
"My goal with sharing my coming out story is that any person sitting at home confused on what they are feeling, just as I had been, can use my experiences to realize that they are not alone. Even if my story helps only one person, I will be satisfied. There will be one less person that feels as if they have to go through this alone."