Chris Morse, 2017

The FLAG Flag Football League is very proud to award its fifth-annual $2,500 youth scholarship to Chris Morse from Lexington High School.

Chris is an openly gay swimmer who captained his team to a Middlesex League championship while being named a League All-Star and a sectional and state championship qualifier in the process. He is also an accomplished musician who has played first seat tenor saxophone in his school’s jazz ensemble, jazz combo, and wind ensembles, winning numerous competitions on the state and national levels, including the Mingus Festival, Berklee Jazz Festival, UMass Jazz Festival, and the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association Festival.

Like many LGBTQ+ youth, Chris did not begin his athletic career at Lexington as an openly gay student. “I spent the first three years on my high school swim team in the closet,” Chris explains, fearing that “sharing this part of me would isolate me from others who would be uncomfortable around me in the locker rooms.” With the confidence that comes from being selected as the captain of his team, and knowing that he had earned the respect of his fellow swimmers, Chris was determined to come out and be a role-model for other students. “After three years spent feeling like I was walking on glass, I was determined in my final year to make sure that other teammates would not have to feel the same way.”

Part of Chris’s self-assurance came from his initiative as a junior, when he, along with a fellow student and school counselor, created Navigating Identity, a group for closeted, questioning, and newly out young men who did not feel that the existing systems of support were enough. While there was a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, Chris felt strongly that there was a need for these male students to have a confidential space for open conversations in which they would not be in the minority. Chris reflected, “From these [weekly] meetings, I gained a sense of community and acceptance that I had never felt before.” This gave Chris the confidence to begin speaking openly about his sexuality to students at the middle and high school, to 9thgrade health classes, and at faculty trainings.

Once he came out, Chris soon realized the power that comes from living authentically and the impact it can have on others. He tells the story of his team’s celebrating a recent victory at a local pizza restaurant, as he began to tell a friend “the most recent updates in a long chronicle of confusing interactions with a boy I liked.” This one-on-one conversation soon became the group discussion. “Before I knew it,” Chris shared, “I had everybody’s attention and was receiving boy advice from a group of 20 guys on the swim team. This was strange and unfamiliar to me, but it felt great to be so open.”

Far more important to Chris than any of the advice he received, or how good it made him feel to be able to communicate so openly, is the affect his coming and being out has had on others and the culture of his team. Soon after the celebration at the restaurant, Chris was approached by a younger swimmer who shared that he, too, was gay and had his own “boy problems.” As a result of Chris’s example, he now felt comfortable speaking openly with the other members of his team who embraced and supported him as they had Chris.

As Chris’s school counselor with whom he began Navigating Identity wrote, “Chris’s kindness and understanding approach have helped smooth the pathway for students who face similar challenges to the ones that he experienced just a few short years ago.” He concluded, “The impact he has made is immeasurable.” We, at FLAG Flag Football agree, and are very proud to support the education of this most-deserving young man.