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Mountaineers Are Always Free... Finally

Upon graduation like many of my classmates I came to West Virginia University. I remember thinking that even though our motto was "Montani Semper Liberi", there was no way that I could come out of the closet.
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When I was in eighth grade and studying for the Golden Horseshoe, I remember learning the meaning of "Montani Semper Liberi." I remember thinking "this is such a cool motto." I had known that I was gay for a couple of years but I had attempted to hide deep in that proverbial closet. I didn't even consider the fact that our motto wasn't true.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued the following statement Thursday, "As the Attorney General stated today, recent rulings by several federal courts, combined with the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this issue, make it clear that laws banning same-sex marriage have been declared unconstitutional. I do not plan to take any actions that would seek to overturn the courts' decisions. West Virginia will uphold the law according to these rulings, and I have directed state agencies to take appropriate action to make that possible."

Upon graduation like many of my classmates I came to West Virginia University. I was an idealistic kid who was known even then as someone who was willing to stand up and fight for my beliefs. I remember the first semester of my freshman year, Matthew Shepherd was savagely beaten and killed in Laramie, Wyoming. I knew that I could be victimized in the same way. I remember thinking that even though our motto was "Montani Semper Liberi", there was no way that I could come out of the closet.

I fell in love with West Virginia University and never left. I am now in my eleventh year as a member of the faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Like most people, I have had my ups and downs over the last decade. During the Spring of 2011 I hit rock-bottom. I was struggling with depression. On a cold evening in April I decided to take action and actually go through with my plans. I had been out for a run and was on my way back home when I took a detour onto a bridge that crosses the river here in our little city. I believe that I stood up there for almost 20 minutes contemplating the best way to be successful at committing suicide. I was listening to my iPod when the song "For Good" from "Wicked" started playing, I do not know if I would be here today if that song hadn't randomly started playing.

Four days later, I was at dinner with a close friend when I suddenly just blurted out "I can't do this anymore, I'm gay." I'm not sure who was more surprised by the sudden declaration. It was at the time the most liberating experience of my life. I would proceed to come out to four other friends over the course of the next week before writing a letter to my family and other close friends disclosing my sexuality and the events that led up to my decision to come out. Over that summer, I would come out to a few other friends but ultimately had revealed myself to everyone that I thought mattered. In September of that year while at a football game on campus, a student of our university approached me yelling obscenities and threatening violence against me because of my sexuality, even referencing Matthew Shepherd in his verbal assault. Afterwards, I decided that I would address bullying and homophobia in our school newspaper and in the process I would identity myself publicly for the first time as a gay male. The response was incredible. I received calls from our President and Provost, and received over 1,500 emails and letters from colleagues, alumni, students, and strangers applauding my courage.

Over the course of the last three years things have changed for me. I have become much more confident in myself and sexuality in a way that I never imagined. I am supported by an administration who believes that diversity, equity and inclusion are of paramount importance to our institution as we move forward as a leader in the state of West Virginia. I am immersed in various aspects of academic and student life and have found that the vast majority of our students share the belief that marriage equality is imperative in our society.

Ultimately things have changed all across the country in regards to LGBT issues, but we still have far to go before full equality is found. I am proud that today things have changed in my state and hope that we advance issues of employment and housing discrimination. I am excited that West Virginia University can start recruiting administrators, faculty and staff who have may have not chosen our institution as a result of the policies of our state. I look forward to changing lectures so that when I talk about issues related to marriage equality, I can say that West Virginia is finally on the right side of history.

I wasn't sure if I would ever see a day that marriage equality would be a reality in my state. I still don't know that I will ever marry but I admit that today I feel more liberated than I did on the day that I first came out. I am overjoyed to see that county clerks are already issuing marriage licenses to citizens all over our wonderful state.

Governor Tomblin stated "Our state is known for its kindness and hospitality to residents and visitors alike. I encourage all West Virginians -- regardless of their personal beliefs -- to uphold our statewide tradition of treating one another with dignity and respect."

For the first time in my life I feel like "Mountaineers are Always Free."