(Photo Credits: Screengrab from Byron Perkins’s Instagram Account)

Byron Perkins—a Hampton University football player—came out publicly as gay through an Instagram story he shared on his account last Wednesday. This makes him the first out football player at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), according to Outsports, an LGBTQ-sports publication.

“I’ve been self-reflective and trying to prioritize what makes me happy and makes me feel alive,” Perkins said. “I thought it could be just football and school, but there was a component missing. And recently I’ve been able to figure out that I haven’t been fully happy because everyone didn’t know who I was. Authenticity is everything to me.”

Further, Perkins wrote on his Instagram account:

I’ve decided that I’m going to make a change, and stop running away from myself.  I’m gay, let it be known that this is not a ‘decision’ or a ‘choice.’ Yes, this is who I am, this is who I’ve been, and this is who I’m going to be.

Simply put, I am who I am.

The rest of his message on his Instagram reads:

I have come to understand that life is precious and I could be gone at any moment, therefore, I will no longer be living a lie. No one should have to live a life crippled by what society thinks.

I have been told on many occasions that I walk around a look as if I’m upset. This is not because I am an angry person, but because I have put on a mask, a mask that has restricted me. Today, I am destroying that mask.

For the friends and family that have known and supported me to this point, thank you, and for the friends and family that I will lose… Thank you too. You have all helped me in the process of building the young man I am today.

In an interview with Outsports, Perkins said that he “understands how some people may not fully understand him being gay.” But at the same time, he’s aware that there are other gay Black men struggling out there who he wants to help in his own little way.

“It’s about that kid who’s going to see this and think he can be himself too. Especially at an HBCU, young Black gay men need an outlet.” He added, “They need a support system. There hasn’t been an out gay football athlete at an HBCU. I want to end the stigma of what people think. I want people to know they can be themselves.

“It’s about that kid who’s going to see this and think he can be himself too.” Read the story in full here.

Netizens showed their support for Perkins by posting their words of encouragement online. Take a look at some of them below:

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