An openly gay high school football player in St. Louis got support from his classmates on Monday after members of the Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest him. Supporters used #StandWithJake to share their messages for Jake Bain, a senior at John Burroughs School.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Bain about why he thinks the church targeted him, the support he's received and the message he hopes his story sends to the LGBTQ community.
"This is so much bigger than just me," Bain says. "There's just so many people out there that are going through the same things that I'm going through. So I just hope that a light is kinda shed on the entire community, especially the youth."
On how Monday's protest and counterprotest unfolded
"Around 7:30 [a.m.] is when the Westboro Baptist Church started rolling in. And by that point, there was probably already 200 people that were outside, with all kinds of signs in support of my community and in support of the LGBT community as a whole. In the morning in our auditorium, we had a bunch of student speakers come and talk to us, both speakers who are from the LGBT community and also people who are just allies of the community. And then we had an alumni video that a whole bunch of alumni sent in from all different classes, like the oldest class was I think 1958. So there was alumni from everywhere that were able to send in really supportive messages, so that was really great. And then just to go outside and just get to see all the amazing support, it was really special. ... I would say [Westboro Baptist Church members] were probably outnumbered 3-to-1."
"I think my biggest fear has been that people will see this as just a special situation, and they won't realize that this is going on everywhere around the country."Jake Bain
On why he thinks the church targeted him
"I think they targeted me because they saw that a gay athlete was in the news for the past couple of weeks. And I think they honestly, they got a little scared that people are starting to realize that it doesn't really matter if you're gay, and that everybody should be treated equally. And so I think they kinda realize that the tides are changing, and as this generation and the next generations to come continue to grow and learn, I think more and more people are becoming accepting, and so I think that goes against everything that they stand for. So I think they've been trying to suppress any kind of person that wants to step out and show that you can be whoever you wanna be. So I think that's kinda the main reason why they decided to come after me."
On his story of coming out in front of his entire school last year
"For National Coming Out Week — I'm one of the leaders of our club called Spectrum, which is the LGBT club at Burroughs, where it's basically just a support group for the LGBT community. And so we, for National Coming Out Week, we wanted to do something special in assembly, so we had a lot of people, if they wanted to, they could send in kinda like their coming-out story, or what it means for them to not be able to come out. And these were all read anonymously. And then for the last speech, I decided that I wanted to write a speech that was basically just for the kids who really weren't able to come out yet and they didn't feel comfortable in our community, because it really is an open community where everyone can be whoever they wanna be.
"So I wanted to show people that, and show people that it's kind of ... it's OK to just, to live your life however you want to, and to not worry about what other people might think of you just because of your sexuality. So I think that was kinda my main message there, was to just be somebody that the younger kids could look up to, because I know that when I was growing up, I never really had somebody that I could relate to, and that was going through the same things that I was. So I wanted to kinda make sure that the next generation of kids had that person."
On whether being a gay athlete impacts how his story is viewed
"Yeah I think so. I mean, I think that's kinda the reason why my story has has gotten big, is because there aren't really many openly gay athletes in college sports, and especially not in football. So I think the fact that more people are starting to realize that really anybody can be gay, there's no like set rules as to what you have to do if you're gay. Obviously people have their stereotypes, but there's not really one set of, like, there's not one type of gay. So I mean it showed a lot of people that more and more people are becoming comfortable, and I just wanted to show that like, playing sports and being gay, those two things can go together."
"I just wanted to show that like, playing sports and being gay, those two things can go together."Jake Bain
On if anything has scared him about this experience
"I think my biggest fear has been that people will see this as just a special situation, and they won't realize that this is going on everywhere around the country. There's so many kids that are there having to deal with the same things that I have to deal with, who may not get as much recognition, or their story may never be heard."
On committing to play football at Indiana State University
"Going to Indiana State is gonna be really special. I mean, football has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I mean, I've been playing since I was 11 years old. It's always been my dream to go on and to play Division I football. So the fact that I've kinda been able to fulfill that dream has really been special for me."
On what he thinks his legacy at Burroughs will be
"I think I've been able to kinda leave a legacy of just, the fact that really anything's possible, you can build your own path. Especially coming from Burroughs, I mean, Burroughs is such a unique environment where there's been so many people that have come out of Burroughs to do great things in life. So I think the legacy I'll leave is kinda just overall to show kids that you can really be whoever you wanna be, and to not really worry about that. I mean, I think I've been able to leave a legacy both on the football field and also just around the classroom and around our community as a whole. So I think it's been pretty special."
This article was originally published on March 14, 2018.
This segment aired on March 14, 2018.