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Leading with pride: Inside the story of Damian Mackay-Morgan coming out

Christopher Gionta
@Chris_Gionta

Freshmen at Springfield College were able to get a deep understanding of who Damian Mackay-Morgan was by their second day at the school.

“I don’t want to come out. I don’t want to be prejudged for being a gay man.”

“I don’t want to lie about the truth. But in a world in which we’d rather allow our children, and friends, and fellow human beings to hate themselves rather than be who they are, than to love who they are and who they want, I don’t have much of a choice,” Mackay-Morgan said.

Every first-year student at Springfield College goes to New Student Orientation, where they participate in group activities to become more familiar with fellow students and the campus. The day after move-in day, students filled the field house for “Pride Talks.” (Ironically enough, Springfield College’s mascot is the “Pride,” a word that is often used to give strength to the LGBTQ+ community and the word Mackay-Morgan used talking about his homosexuality.)

He closed out the “Pride Talks” with a powerful speech on what he went through as not only an openly-gay man, but a closeted gay man.

However, coping with his sexuality was not his first hardship. While he was in middle school, Mackay-Morgan’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It started with him not being able to drive, not being able to communicate in public spaces,” Mackay-Morgan said. “And from there, it just got worse and worse.”

He first started noticing differences with his father in the eighth grade. Little did anyone else know, this was while Mackay-Morgan was closeted. When talking about his time being closeted, he said, “During that time, I started to notice his decline more than ever, but I was so closeted and so hidden and reserved from [my family], I still couldn’t connect with them or relate with them at all,” he said.

Hiding his sexuality was a routine part of life for Mackay-Morgan. He knew he was gay from the time he was in seventh grade, but did not come out until his sophomore year of high school.

“That was definitely the worst three years of my entire life. That’s why middle school was so awful, because I had, like, no friends,” he said. “It was because I was trying so hard 24/7 to cover up literally everything; talking differently, dressing differently, acting differently in every single way to be an identity that I wasn’t at all.”

That period of time finally closed once he came out to a friend in his sophomore year of high school. Mackay-Morgan had the initial feeling that coming out would be a large weight off of his shoulders. It did end up being very liberating for him, but the relief did not come without a negative response.

At the New Student Orientation speech, he said, “I was never bullied more in my life and never hated myself more and hated life than after I came out.”

He also said, “They never tell you that coming out makes you the perfect target.”

Mackay-Morgan attending a Catholic high school also did not benefit his situation. “I was at a private Catholic high school, so already, the cards were stacked against me. I didn’t get really too much support from any of the administration,” Mackay-Morgan said.

“I really couldn’t go to the administration at all; they would basically give the person a ‘slap on the wrist’, and that’s all that it was. Nothing was really ever done by any of the administration at all to resolve or make any kinds of changes at all,” he added.

This lack of acceptance made him hesitant to be his true self when making the transition into college. He did not want to endure anything similar to what he went through during high school.

“It was pretty scary coming to college,” Mackay-Morgan said. “I wasn’t closeted in the way I was in high school, but I was still on guard to throw my true colors out there from the get-go. I kind of understood someone’s values before I showed who I was to them in a way.” Being gay without knowing what to expect from his surroundings made things significantly harder for him.
He did not like his roommate at all in the first semester. The worst thing the roommate did was rip Mackay-Morgan’s tapestry off of the wall in a fit of rage. To top it all off, at the end of his first semester, Mackay-Morgan’s best friend transferred to another school.

Being quiet and reserved was normal for Mackay-Morgan, and this reservation was visible to the track team he was trying out for. Kris Rhim, a junior at Springfield College and teammate of Mackay-Morgan, took notice. “I don’t know if he thought that the track team didn’t really like him or not,” Rhim said. “But he wouldn’t eat dinner with us early on, or he would be nervous to talk.”

Luckily, things started to change for Mackay-Morgan once his second semester of college began. In the first semester, he applied to be a New Student Orientation (NSO) leader and was accepted. This gave him another group to be a part of, and another platform to express himself freely.

He also became friends with a lot more people, and was less inclined to be as reserved as he was before. “At the end of second semester during freshman year, I definitely found myself, and definitely found the people — the people that I was friends with then are the people that I’m friends with now. In those one or two semesters, there was a ton of growth; figuring out what I wanted for myself, and what I wanted from other people.” Mackay-Morgan said.

Athletically, he ended up not only making the track team, but also setting the school record for the 60-meter hurdle race.
As someone who has seen his father be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, had been closeted for three years, and endured bullying after coming out, Damian Mackay-Morgan would have a good excuse to have a negative outlook on life. Yet, he refuses to use such excuses, and instead, reflects on Springfield College positively.

Sarah Bannon, a sophomore at Springfield College who was partnered as an NSO leader with Mackay-Morgan, can attest to that. When explaining her first encounters with him, she said, “I learned that he was a really good leader. He was super nice, super outgoing, always smiling — I just thought of him as a person who was just genuinely happy.”

New Student Orientation is the first full Springfield College experience that a student gets, and Damian Mackay-Morgan ensures that it is a positive experience for the group. He talked about where his inspiration came from when describing the NSO meetings. “I wanted to emulate the way that [the previous NSO leaders] inspired me. I wanted to be that amazing leader and just learn from them.”

In a better world, Mackay-Morgan’s story would not be unique as it is today. He knows this and aspires for change in societal norms. In his NSO speech, he expressed this desire for a better world. “And maybe if we teach our children and students to hold on to that a little bit harder this world wouldn’t need words and technicalities to separate us. We wouldn’t need same sex marriage; only marriage. We wouldn’t need Pride Month; only June.”

It is statements like these that make Mackay-Morgan so special. He does not want to use the pain he once had against anyone. He wants to use it to prevent people from having the same poor experiences that he had to endure. Mackay-Morgan is speaking to open forums about these issues in order to prevent a person like him from hiding their real self, like so many people have had to do before.

Photo Courtesy Damian Mackay-Morgan

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