Out on the field

Scott Bloom was closeted during his high school wrestling career, but he found 4 brave gay student athletes to come out for his new documentary

MARATHON MEN | Getting teen athletes and their families to feel comfortable coming out on film was a challenge for documentarian Scott Bloom.

DAN WOOG  | Contributing Sports Writer
outfield@qsyndicate.com

There are three keys to successful documentary filmmaking: A good subject, a good story line and good luck. Scott Bloom found all three.

His goal in making Out for the Long Run — a movie about gay high school athletes — was to go beyond “the regular coming-out stories.” Bloom, a former closeted wrestler who had been terrified of being outed, ostracized or beaten up, knew there were “extraordinary individuals” out there. He wanted to highlight their accomplishments, and provide hope to LGBT people of all ages, everywhere.

The first problem was finding those young athletes. The second was convincing them — and their parents — to be filmed.

He asked organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG for help. But although he’d produced one film on Metropolitan Community Church founder the Rev. Troy Perry, and another on the “oldest gay organization in the world” (a motorcycle club), he admits he was “an unknown quantity.”

The project stalled. Then Bloom saw a Facebook page for gay athletes. With permission from creator Lucas Goodman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology rower, Bloom asked for volunteers.

He got a dozen or two responses. Some of their parents objected, and blurring faces or filming in shadows would undercut the idea of openness. Plus, Bloom hoped to include the parents’ stories, too. In the end he settled on four athletes, with a cross-section of experiences.

When he began shooting, some of Bloom’s old fears resurfaced. “I worried all over again about being ‘thrown out of the locker room,’” he says. “But everyone was very gentle to me.”

He learned that today’s gay youth “have fewer hang-ups than my generation did. They define sexuality more fluidly. That’s refreshing. It gives me hope. I was definitely not as self-aware at that age.”

Bloom’s lucky break came when he found Austin Snyder. The track star was entering his senior year at California’s Berkeley High School. (The other three athletes were already in college.) He had a great, supportive family. He was smart, popular and embraced by his teammates.

Snyder’s story would provide a counterpoint to Brenner Green, a Connecticut College runner whose father had a hard time accepting his son’s sexuality, and who stopped being invited to team dinners after coming out in high school; Goodman, who had difficulty coming out to teammates; and Liz Davenport, a soccer player from Maine whose love for sports was undermined by the bullying she endured. (She ended up “probably the most heroic,” Bloom says, “after struggling and maturing the most.”)

Snyder, a very articulate teenager, lives through what is in many ways a typical high school year. He desperately hopes to get into Brown University — but an injury causes both physical and emotional stress. The usually self-confident runner wonders if he is being punished for his sexuality.

It’s not easy being a senior — especially when you’re gay. “I’m a big romantic,” Snyder says. “High school is all about the guys getting the girls. Running helps take away the hurt of not having someone.”

Then Snyder gets the news: He’s into Brown. He goes from “the lowest low to the highest high.” In a scene repeated in homes across the country, he is giddy with excitement.

But as graduation approaches, Snyder says, “All my friends are happy and dating. I want that!”

He creates a Facebook group for cross country and track athletes heading to Brown. He joins another group for all admitted students where, he says, “all the gay men have found each other.”

Suddenly, Snyder finds someone special: a swimmer from North Carolina. Online they flirt, then talk seriously for weeks. Then, in a plot twist that would sound unbelievable in a real movie — except it’s true — Snyder qualifies for a national race. In North Carolina.

Bloom films their meeting. It’s a truly sweet scene. Later, his new boyfriend gives him a tender pre-race kiss.

The final scene also seems right out of a teen flick. Snyder delivers a graduation speech at Berkeley High. He talks about diversity and change, and urges his classmates: “Use your open-minded spirit.” Snyder’s coach says, “Austin’s story gives hope for what can be.” His father adds simply, “I’m extremely proud of Austin.”

Out for the Long Run is a powerful film. “I never expected a sports film to make people cry,” Bloom says. “But people tell me it makes them remember the fears and emotions they buried years earlier.”

And, echoing Snyder’s coach, it generates hope in unlikely places. Five rural school districts in Louisiana have bought copies for each middle and high school. The counseling director will use it as a teaching tool.

Which means its lessons will be remembered by students — gay and straight — for a long, long run.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens