Hampton defensive back Byron Perkins on Wednesday came out of the closet to announce that he’s gay. According to Sports Illustrated, Perkins’ disclosure of his sexual orientation makes him the first HBCU football player to come out as gay.
The Chicago native, who took to Instagram to make the announcement, said he wasn’t going to continue “living a lie.” “I’ve decided that I’m going to make a change, and stop running away from myself,” he posted. “I’m gay, let it be known that this is not a ‘decision’ or a ‘choice.’ Yes, this is who I am, this is who I’ve been, and this is who I’m going to be.”
The redshirt junior defensive back also explained his decision to come out in an interview with Outsports. Prior to publicly disclosing his sexual orientation, Perkins said that he felt there was a missing component in his life. But he said he now feels whole.
“I’ve been self-reflective and trying to prioritize what makes me happy and makes me feel alive,” Perkins told the news outlet. “I thought it could be just football and school, but there was a component missing. And recently I’ve been able to figure out that I haven’t been fully happy because everyone didn’t know who I was. Authenticity is everything to me.”
Perkins was initially a student-athlete at Purdue before he transferred to Hampton. The Virginia-based private university’s football team is known as the Pirates, and they compete in the Colonial Athletic Association, per Sports Illustrated. Perkins has made 11 appearances for the Pirates over the last two seasons.
Perkins, in his post on Instagram, explained that hiding his sexual orientation took a toll on him. “I have come to understand that life is precious and I could be gone at any moment, therefore, I will no longer be living a lie,” Perkins shared.
“No one should have to live a life crippled by what society thinks. I have been told on many occasions that I walk around and look as if I’m upset. This is not because I am an angry person, but because I have put on a mask, a mask that has restricted me. Today, I am destroying that mask.”
Touching on the reaction from his teammates after coming out, Perkins told Outsports that it has been “very good” or perhaps a bit varied. He also said he has received support from his coaches. Perkins also touched on why it’s prudent for Black gay men to not feel coy about their sexual orientation.
“Especially at an HBCU, young Black gay men need an outlet,” said Perkins. “They need a support system. There hasn’t been an out gay football athlete at an HBCU. I want to end the stigma of what people think. I want people to know they can be themselves. It’s about that kid who’s going to see this and think he can be himself too.”