Wilson Principal Talks About Coming Out in Front of His Students
The principal of Wilson High School came out Wednesday in front of the entire student body during the school's Pride Day celebration. With Mayor Vince Gray and At-Large Councilmember David Catania by his side, Principal Pete Cahall's hands shook as he read his prepared remarks, telling the student body that, at 50, he was proudly coming out as a gay man.
Cahall talked to City Desk this morning about the response to his speech, and revealed he only decided he would announce he was gay the night before the event. And, he said, the mayor had no idea that the Pride Day event he was introducing would contain Cahall's surprise. Cahall's prepared remarks can be read here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You had an emotional day yesterday. How are you feeling today?
From what I have seen, the response has been celebratory and positive—from the mayor to your Wilson High students. Any negative response so far?
Not that I have heard personally.
Who has reached out to you since the announcement?
A ton of students. I think I've probably had a 1,000 hits on my Facebook page yesterday—likes, comments, people that I went to high school with, elementary school, friends from North Carolina, Virginia. Like I've said, it's been overwhelming. I've even gotten emails from people I didn't know, one guy from England sent me an email....He said congratulations, a lot of it had to do with being courageous and being proud and congratulating me.
Was this just the first time you came out to your students or was this the first time to anyone?
This is the first time to anyone.
When did you decide that you would come out during the school's Pride Day assembly?
Probably the night before when I was writing my introduction for the mayor. And thinking about how I could be presiding over a gay Pride Day event and telling kids it's safe to be who you are and I'm not doing that.
Did you consider making the announcement at last year's Pride Day celebrations?
Why this year?
It's been in the back of my mind for years. I had this thing in my head that said when I turn 50 I got to start being me. You are a grown man, an adult, you can't worry and think about what people think or say.
You mentioned that in your speech that one of things that prevented you from coming out before was the "culture of when and where" you grew up. Why is that?
Thirty, 20 years ago, it's not something people talked a whole lot about.
What was your family's reaction?
Accepting. Family is your family.
Did the mayor know you were going to make this announcement beforehand?
What was it like to be staying next to Mayor Gray during the announcement?
Mayor Gray has been extremely supportive of Wilson and me personally over the last three-plus years. I was comfortable being there next to him and I knew he would be supportive.
What did he tell you after?
That he was proud of me, modeling for my kids, and for being who I am.
The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church is picketing the school Monday for its Pride Day events. What does this mean to you and what will you be doing?
The counter-protest has been student initiated and student-led. My job on Monday is to make sure that my students are safe. So my role is really supervision.
As a gay man, what does it mean that protests like this still exist?
The more attention you give them, the more power they have. There are always going to be people that don't believe in you and your beliefs and who you are. Not a whole lot I can do about it, so I don't worry about things I can't control or change.
Do you see your role in the community changing or expanding going forward?
My sexuality doesn't define me, that's just who I am and who I love. It doesn't make me any different as a person or principal, or anything else for that matter.
In your speech, you said that your students have inspired you. Tell me a little bit about the LGBTQ community at Wilson High and how your students have inspired you.
They are very confident in who they are. We have a number of kids who are out and a number of teachers and staff members who are out. Wilson is diverse—ethnically, racially, religiously, sexual orientation. It's just a very diverse school community and as a community we embrace diversity and people's differences. That's how I see it.
You are now participating in this weekend's Pride Parade. What does that mean to you?
I haven't thought about that yet. I don't know. The fact that I can walk in it and not be fearful of repercussions or...I don't know, I haven't thought about it yet and I don't want to force an answer.
What's in store at Wilson High today?
Everyday is different at Wilson. We have a senior awards program today, so I'll be doing that. But yes, business as usual.
Photo by Philippa Willitts via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0