Terrence Curry was a budding runner for T.C. Williams High as a freshman three years ago, when he prepared to run his leg in the 4×400 meter relay at an indoor invitational meet in Newport News. A year before, Curry had come out as gay to his mother, Lisa, and older brother, Willie — and now, with “150 pounds” of weight relieved from his shoulders, he was going to run alongside his brother on the Titans’ relay team.
Then a group of kids from another school began hooting and hollering slurs at him.
How did they know he was gay? Curry wondered. Maybe it was a hair flip he did, or a finger snap, or another harmless gesture that fit a gay male stereotype?
The only response was to run. Some of the boys making fun of him were on another team in the same 4×400 heat. If Curry, now 18, was going to be a pariah before the gun went off, he recalls telling himself, he sure wasn’t going to be one after.
The Titans took second — Curry’s hecklers finished last.
Being openly gay is still something of a rarity in high school. Competing in and finding a sport where your sexual orientation becomes an afterthought is even more rare, especially when the sport is composed of impressionable teenagers. At T.C. Williams, though, Curry has found acceptance, a process that began immediately after the race three years ago when one of his hecklers walked up to him and apologized.
“It just gave me this energy that I didn’t know that I had,” Curry said.
The story of Curry’s race is well-known at T.C., where Curry graduates next week. He has become one of the Alexandria school’s most popular students. He’s the senior class vice president and president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. He ran the German club as junior, became the top business student as a senior and was chief organizer of prom.
Curry is also the captain of the track team, a title he earned not only because he can fly (at 5 feet 8 and 130 pounds, he runs the 300-meter hurdles in under 40 seconds and qualified for the state track meet in Newport News last weekend), but also because at an age when most of his teammates are still unsure of who they are and who they want to become, Curry has answered both questions within himself. He’s had no choice.
Earlier this spring, Curry submitted an essay for a college scholarship offered by Team DC, a local nonprofit working to dispell discrimination in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletic community. He opened it by writing: If you were to walk the halls of T.C. Williams High School, and even mention my name, I am pretty sure everyone would say either, “The gay one?” or “The gay guy that runs track?” or “The gay guy that does everything?”
Brent Minor, the executive director of Team DC, says it’s difficult to say how many openly gay high school students there are, let alone how many compete on their schools’ athletic teams. He does know that last year alone Team DC gave scholarships to six students, including one who came to the awards ceremony with his parents, sister and boyfriend.
“All I could say when I was introducing him was, ‘Man a lot has changed since I was in high school,’” Minor said. “I know this: There’s a lot more than people think. . . . somebody like [Curry] is leading the way for the next junior or sophomore who sees him as this visible person. ”
Curry grew up in Alexandria in a fatherless home, and could feel at an early age that he was different. He was always teased, he said, from kindergarten on up. He was teased for not playing sports, and for always dancing. He was teased for hanging out with girls.
“It’s sort of feeling, and just how I was. At first it was just like, okay, I’m not normal,” Curry said.
His mother would drive Curry to school every morning, always listening to the local WHUR radio station — which took phone calls from listeners for a topic of the day.
“’What if your child is gay? What if your child comes out to you, what would you do?’” Curry said he would hear on the show. “That just kept happening, it just kept being a topic, and I was like okay, this is a sign. And that’s just when I was like, ‘I have to.’”
He impulsively told his mother one night after she refused to let him attend a party. “She was angry at first,” he said, “and then we just talked about it.”
Learning to live with her son’s sexuality has been an ongoing process for Curry’s mother, he said. She did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story.
Later that night his brother Willie, a year older, told him he didn’t care, and that they’d talk about it in the morning. In reality, it was new territory for both. Willie has always been protective of Terrence, and he promised his brother that once he entered high school, if “anyone has a problem, then we can deal with it.”
Labels are a traditional part of the social structure in high schools, but Curry has found uncommon acceptance at T.C. Williams, the track team’s hurdles coach Amanda Mullins said. She said she coached a few openly gay athletes for four years at a high school in Ohio before arriving at T.C. three years ago, and that she knew athletes at Vanderbilt who were gay when she competed in track there from 2003-06.
But “there’s something about Terrence that he’s not defined by his sexuality,” she said. “And that nobody can put him in a box because he is a gay student-athlete. And I really think that’s the biggest difference with Terrence.”
A year ago, when Mullins watched a male athlete from another school giving Curry a hard time about being gay at the Northern Region meet, a few boys from the T.C. team ran to his defense. But it was Willie who consoled Terrence, who was crying.
“I’ve always tried to help him when he’s in situations like that,” Willie said.
Curry had a tough decision to make last week, when he had to choose between running in the state meet in Newport News or attend the prom, which fell on the same day. Curry has always put track first, but he had worked all year with classmates to put on the prom. He decided he needed to be there.
Organizing the event wasn’t without drama. Students last month nominated Curry as prom queen, a gesture he found humorous but which generated some local media attention.
While he attended the dance, Curry said, his heart was with his track teammates competing in Newport News. The track is where everything changed for him, when he ran the race of his life in the 4×400 heat.
He’ll never forget the faces of the boys who taunted him, he said, or the blushing boy who apologized to him afterward.
Curry, who plans to walk on the track team as a freshman at the University of Alabama next year, couldn’t help but write to the boy in his scholarship essay earlier this spring.
“Thanks, and by the way, I am gay. I am one of those so to speak, ‘slow homosexuals’ you were referring too,” Curry wrote. “I even did a hair flip, and a finger snap with it.”