Tanner Wilfong/Instagram

Champion Divers Come Out As Gay—And Boyfriends

"I think every day is a better day," says Olympic hopeful Tanner Wilfong.

It’s rare enough for a college athlete to come out as gay. For two of them to come out—and reveal they’re in a relationship—is incredible.

University of Miami diver Tanner Wilfong and Jamie Bisset, a diver who recently graduated from Purdue University, came out as a couple in an interview with the Roanoke Times.

Wilfong is just one of seven out athletes in the Power-5 conference, and may be the only active male athlete in the Atlantic Coast Conference to be open about being gay.

Bissett is the reigning national 3-meter champion in Canada and is training to represent Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The couple began dating almost two years ago, when Bissett was still in the closet and Wilfong had just come out to his friends, teammates and coach.
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“I think every day is a better day,” Wilfong says. “Our relationship has changed so much since we first met, because [Jamie] wasn’t even ’out.’ It’s a complete progression until the day you depart, move on or die.”

Bissett says dating while not out was “scary,” but he’s thankful to have found Wilfong when he did.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself through having met him and definitely credit that whole experience to where I am now.”
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Growing up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Wilfong tried to deny his sexuality—telling himself every day “You’re not gay. You’re not gay. You’re not gay.”

Sports became a means to acceptance. “I thought people would only like me if I was a good diver,” he recalls.

“[But] you start getting that stress mixed with your sexuality, and you worry what people think about you all the time…. I tried to literally change who I was.”

Eventually, the energy required to keep up the facade proved too much, and he began coming out to close friends, and eventually his diving coach, Randy Ableman.

The response was almost universally positive, with Ableman congratulating him: “Welcome to the world. You’re yourself now—I’m so proud.”

Wilfong says his diving improved almost immediately. After finishing fifth in a major meet—U.S. Winter National Championships—and making his first national team, Wilfong asked Ableman what was happening.

“You’re being yourself,” said the coach. “You’re diving out of your mind. You don’t care what people think.”

It was also at that meet where Wilfong met Jamie Bissett. They started dating a few weeks later.
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It hasn’t been a cakewalk since then—a major back injury threatened Wilfong’s diving career—but living authentically has given him a freedom he didn’t have before.

Wilfong qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, but after the injury, he decided to aim for the 2020 Summer Games instead.

Flashback Friday to winter nationals #5th place #TheU

A post shared by Tanner (@tannerlimelght) on

For now, he says he doesn’t mind being known as “that gay diver.”

I’m OK with gay being part of my reputation. I like it.

In high school, it would have been the uncool thing for me in my mind. Now, it’s the cool thing. It’s just because the cool thing is me being myself and me not caring for a single second what anyone else thinks about me.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery