- HIGHSCHOOL - Coming Out - Part 1

Wednesday, July 16
Coming Out - Part 1

Corey Johnson
Masconomet High School football player Corey Johnson went public with his homosexuality and received unexpected support from his teammates and community.
This is the first of a two-part story on Corey Johnson, a senior football player at Masconomet High in Topsfield, Mass., who announced to his family, school and community that he is gay.

This is a story of love. Love between family and friends. Between teammates.

Love of a school for its students, and a community's love for what is right. It is a love that validates all that is good and wholesome and irresistible about the human spirit.

Corey Johnson knows that love.

He is a 17-year-old senior at Masconomet High (Topsfield, Mass.). He is fresh off a standout three-year varsity football career as a middle linebacker and right guard, crowned by his co-captaincy of a relentlessly overachieving '99 squad.

Corey Johnson also happens to be gay.

He let that be publicly known a little more than a year ago. But what's truly glorious and courageous and inspiring about Corey Johnson's story - what's truly newsworthy - is not just the good it has done, but the good it is yet to do.

"In all the years I've done this work, there's been no story that's inspired so many people so thoroughly," says Jeff Perrotti, 41, Northeast coordinator for the partially publicly funded Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and a gay rights activist for the past 20 years. "I think what's important is it's a story that shows what's possible and it raises people's expectation.

"There's a culture in schools and in school sports these days where so much negative stuff is talked about, which is why (Corey's story) isn't only about dealing with gay issues," continues Perrotti, whose organization awarded the 1999-2000 GLSEN Visionary Youth Award to Johnson and the Masconomet football team last month. "It's people recognizing we can think about entering ground and taking risks we haven't before. It's imagining things could be different than the way they are. That's a message we're all hungry for."

Johnson insists he's no hero. He notes there are thousands of gay, lesbian and straight youths performing extraordinary feats every day in the battle against bigotry. He says that the biggest part of what he did was simply announce the full spectrum of his identity, mostly to keep himself from imploding.

But Johnson did far more than that when he told some teachers, then his parents, then his coaches, then his teammates and, therefore, the world that he is gay. He became a conduit for change.

Masconomet, a regional secondary school encompassing the tri-town area of Topsfield, Boxford and Middleton, became a Petri dish for tolerance last fall. The culture germinated was every bit as precious as Penicillin.

On the bus ride back from a road win last Oct. 1, Johnson's teammates belly laughed over bonehead plays and relived bone-crushing hits, just like usual. They also celebrated their captain by singing the disco hit "YMCA," the anthem of perhaps the best-known openly gay pop group to date, The Village People. That was a microcosm of the season: a team married to smash-mouth football, but so committed to Johnson that teammates once reminded him to return from a speaking engagement at a conference on gay issues with an armful of event T-shirts for their wardrobes.

A gay teen's revelation wouldn't have gone down this way everywhere. Johnson's decision to come out, though spontaneous, was carefully orchestrated for public consumption. Hours of groundwork performed by a vast network of interested parties constructed a rock-solid launching pad. Masco's long-standing commitment to diversity was a vital factor.

But Johnson's declaration and the distinct lack of accompanying furor represent an inauguration, not an anomaly. Society's labels are losing their foothold.

"People at my school would have said this was impossible - for the captain of the football team to come out and have it be an accepting environment," says Johnson. "Just by telling the truth, I've been able to help people because they see that somebody can live their life without hiding things about an integral part of who they are. People should know there are so many organizations out there and if you get the support you need, anything can happen. It's great the way my situation worked out. It's had a huge impact in my life."

Corey Johnson's visionary act of outing himself as the only openly gay pupil in a student population of 1,200 was that of a revolutionary. Johnson is, with any luck, merely pushing society where it needs to go. Where it wants to go.

"Times have changed," says Masconomet head football coach Jim Pugh. "No one was asking the opposing teams to do anything more than not make idiotic and inappropriate comments about sexual orientation. That doesn't seem like a lot to ask. We weren't asking them to go to gay pride marches. All Corey wanted was the opportunity to compete and let people know who he is.

"We always talk to the team about being a family and caring for one another," Pugh adds. "It was nice that we could really practice what we preach. This is our captain. We weren't going to turn our back on him, nor did he turn his on us."

Johnson did nearly turn his back on himself. By the middle of his sophomore year, he was despondent about coming to terms with who he was. His academic performance was in free-fall. He didn't even want to get out of bed in the morning. "I knew what I was and that was the hardest part," recalls Johnson. "I was struggling with accepting myself."

Contact Corey Johnson at

Material from
Visit their web site at


Coming Out - Part 2