By Kris Rhim
Amanda Kulas was confused when one of her classmates at Windsor Locks High School in Conn., handed her pages torn from the Bible.
This classmate was also Kulas’ teammate on the track team and even sat next to her on the bus in sixth grade. She remembered him being someone that enjoyed starting trouble. Most people, however, use the Bible as something positive, so maybe he wanted to give her his favorite scripture and wish her a blessed day. Instead, he handed Kulas these torn pages accompanied with him saying, “God says it’s wrong for you to be gay.”
For a while, Kulas had been living her life filled with anger, frustration and confusion. Nothing made her happy. She loved music and performing in concerts with the orchestra, but hated the dress code that forced her to wear a dress. She didn’t understand why big boys jeans or hand me downs from family friends felt so much more comfortable to wear and why people would criticize her when she would wear those kinds of things to school.
Sports were her safe haven.
Playing basketball, pole vaulting, and soccer helped her clear her head. Unlike concerts, baggy jerseys and shorts are welcomed in basketball, which allowed her to do what she loved and feel comfortable. In addition to the comfort, and the tight-knit family that her sports teams gave her, doing well in sports made her feel that her parents finally had something to be proud of her for.
“My sister was the academic one, perfect grades, perfect everything and I wasn’t,” Kulas said. “I struggled in school, but I knew that at least on the court my dad could be like, ‘number two, that’s my kid,’ he could say that to people and be really proud about it. “
Finding a date to eighth grade formal was problematic.
She was supposed to dress really “pretty,” which meant wearing makeup, and of course, a dress. These requirements made her feel uncomfortable and often left her wondering why she didn’t fit the mold of what a girl was supposed to be or look like.
Instead of saying anything, she would suppress these feelings and try to be the girl she thought she was supposed to be. For years, Kulas was walking around with this gorilla-sized burden. It negatively affected her relationships and caused her to be so enraged that she would frequently punch holes in her walls.
“Amanda has struggled a lot coming into her own. She’s always known she was a little different than the crowd — not quite fitting in the typical molds that are preset for most. And for a while that was something that really troubled her,” said Lexi Higgins, a friend of Kulas for 13 years. “So because of that there was a time where she would cut off bits and pieces of herself to allow herself to fit a little more neatly into those circles of people.”
Kulas had already told her older sister that she was gay, and she supported Kulas, but she was unsure about how the rest of her family would react. After a scary situation in high school involving the homophobic mother of Kulas’ then-girlfriend, in which the police had to be called, she finally had to tell her parents the truth.
“I didn’t have a negative experience at all, my family was very much okay with it and I’m lucky in that aspect,” she said. “I know so many kids that can’t come out or they feel so petrified to come out because their family isn’t supportive. It was great to be able to come out and live freely as who I was — and especially not wearing those super feminine clothes anymore.”
Today Kulas has her hair cut low, slicked to the left side of her head. She is wearing red slacks, a tucked in wrinkled dress shirt — because she hates ironing — with a gray sweater over top to hide those wrinkles, and gray Nike Janoski shoes. On her left hand she dons a black silicone engagement ring. She got engaged in February, but her and her fiance decided to save their fancy engagement rings for special occasions only, for fear of damaging them.
Kulas, a graduate assistant track and field coach at Springfield College, is at Blake track with a group of sprinters. She’s making sure their hips, arms and legs are in the proper running form. During breaks, she laughs and jokes with some of the athletes about how her favorite football team — the Dallas Cowboys — are going to the Super Bowl next year. Almost seven years since she came out publicly, Kulas is far from that scared, uncomfortable and depressed girl she used to be. She’s embraced who she has become and brings her experiences to her coaching.
For 60-meter school record holder and openly gay athlete Damian Mackay Morgan, Kulas has made track practice a place for him to be a version of himself that he couldn’t be elsewhere.
“Having someone like her who understands the hardships associated with growing up homosexual, and understands what it means to live life out of the closet and the target that puts on your head for others who do not support, is the last puzzle piece I needed to call this team and this place my family and my home,” he said.
When Mackay-Morgan was speaking one weekend in the Field House at the student-athlete panel for open house, an uncomfortable feeling overwhelmed him and he had to sprint off the stage. He was having his first ever panic attack. The first person he looked to for love and comfort was Kulas.
“I did not go to her specifically because we are both homosexual,” he said, “but I went to her because sharing this characteristic opened so many doors to unite us and make me trust her completely and complete our family on the team and at Springfield College.”
Kulas didn’t come into this job looking to be a role model, but her passion for fairness and equality has made her become just that.
To this day she still thinks about a time where she and her girlfriend were given Saturday detentions in high school for kissing goodbye in the hallway, when a heterosexual couple did the same. The detention was deemed for being late because it came a second after the bell for class, but for Kulas, it didn’t feel right.
“It felt like hatred. It felt so terrible,” she said. “ I just want everybody to be treated fairly no matter what we’re doing. A label should never define you. If any punishment is necessary it needs to be equal.”
Andrew Weller has been friends with Kulas since they were freshmen in the exercise science program at Central Connecticut State University in 2012. He still talks to Kulas once a week, and says after each phone call that he’s always left with a broad ear-to-ear smile because of how excited and happy he is for the person she’s become.
“She’s becoming a voice for the voiceless and I can remember a long time ago when she felt she didn’t have a voice of her own,” said Weller, “Of course I’m proud. I’m proud of her growth in every dimension of her being.”
While she has grown largely from that uncomfortable girl that punched holes in her walls, unsure of where she fit and who she was, she understands that there will always be people who will never accept her.
When former President Barack Obama signed the Same-Sex Marriage Bill in 2015, that same student that handed Kulas those torn pages from the Bible in high school got in contact with her. He wanted to remind her that it was still very wrong for her to be gay. Even more recently, he contacted her at 2 a.m. one night through Facebook messenger to remind her, again, how wrong it is for her to be herself. Just one month ago, when Kulas was holding hands with her fiance and walking down a pier, a man yelled, “f—k the gays!”
“It kind of takes you back and makes you wonder, like what year are we in? And why do you have so much hate?” she said. “I went through a phase in my life where I was mad at myself (because of what people said) and struggling, but I’m at peace with who I am.”
And no amount of torn Bible pages or bigots will ever change that.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Kulas