LGBTQ History Month
Interview

Conner Mertens 
Out To Win 
Originally Published during BFI Flare 2015

A documentary that serves as an overview and examination of the lives and careers of aspiring and professional gay and lesbian athletes from all over the world.
 

Hey Conner thanks for talking to tNC, how's everything been going?

Very very busy! School, football, interning, working, advocacy...hard to find a free minute for anything! But overall I have been great! 

 

Since you came out has the reaction you've gotten from the public surprised you? 

People are always surprising! Some people I thought would hate me for who I was became my biggest allies. The biggest surprise was the death threats I received when I came out. I didn't realize people were so passionate about my life that they would go out of their way to email me and tell me they wanted to kill me haha. But the entire process would be considered a surprise to me. I didn't realize it would garner this much attention and influence. But considering how terrified I was about coming out and the positive response I got from almost everywhere was very cool.

 

When did you get the idea of writing a letter?

Well the letter had been in the workings for a few years. I keep a bible journal and would always just jot down little ideas I wish I could say to people to make them understand what it means to be LGBT and what I wish I could say to them if I ever got the courage to say anything. But the idea to publish the letter on my Twitter came in November (two months before I posted it). My friends were joking that I was "twitter famous" in my town. And I realized that I did have influence in that way and that was the most efficient way to get my words out there and allow people to see what I wanted them to know.

 

Was it hard to be so frank and open in such a way?

This has always been one of my biggest fears and being able to stand in it, and own it is super liberating. Even on my worst days, they are outweighed ten fold by the good ones. Nothing can overshadow the phrase, "your story helped me (insert coming out story here)." It was really like a band-aid. I was sweating and dying leading up to telling people. And once I did it and got it over with, it was the biggest relief.

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Once you put it out there how did you feel afterwards?

I felt better in every aspect of my life. Emotionally, mentally, athletically...they were all made better by dropping this weight. I finally felt real and honest for the first time in my life. I am a pretty genuine person and I always have been-but I was always hiding this one side of me. It wasn't fair to my friends or family that I was pretending to be honest with them.

 

How did you get involved with Out To win, was it an easy decision for you to take part in the film?

I actually ran into the guys with Out To Win at the Nike LGBT Sports Coalition Summit in Portland, OR. They approached me and asked if I would talk about my experience. It was an incredibly easy decision. Our stories are some of the most powerful weapons we have against homophobia. It is unfortunate that we have to "normalize" a demographic of humans, but we do...and no better way to do that then by sharing our stories and making people say, "oh...he's just like me." 

 

What was some of the best advice you had been given as you were about to come out?

NEVER READ THE COMMENT SECTIONS ONLINE. They are breeding grounds for hate and serve no purpose other than false-validating angry and irate people who have far too much time on their hands and too much hate in their hearts. 

How have things changed for you?

So much has changed. I am able to form tighter bonds with people. People respond to vulnerability and reciprocate. I have made some incredible and life-long friendships that I wouldn't change for the world. I am confident in myself and love who I see for the first time. It is a very uplifting time for me.

"Too often, we get stuck thinking we hate ourselves to the point that we don't allow others in and don't believe the love that they have for us."

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Looking back would you have done anything differently?

Probably not. Maybe I would have told my parents and family earlier-they deserved to know a long time ago. I just wasn't ready. 

 

What advice would you offer someone who is finding their own courage to come out?

Do it on your own time. Don't let anyone tell you when you can or can't come out. Do what is best for you. Above all, love yourself and allow others to love you. Emphasis on that second part. Too often, we get stuck thinking we hate ourselves to the point that we don't allow others in and don't believe the love that they have for us. It's a vicious cycle. It takes trust and compassion but it is vital to feeling better and owning yourself. You can't expect others to love you if you don't love you.

 

And finally, are you happy?

It's funny, I ask this question whenever I want to illicit a deep conversation with someone. I generally get the answer "yeah, sure, of course". But that is so superficial and doesn't generally reflect if they are genuinely happy or not. I can honestly say that I am genuinely happy. I don't have to hide anything. I just can be exactly who I am without fear. I think that is a very important faction of being happy is not being controlled by your fears. I am no longer controlled by my fear and it has actually become a source of joy in my life.