“Why do you tell people that you’re gay?”
That was the opening line of 17 year old Rich Bartlett’s speech during his school assembly this week, referencing a question he often gets asked.
“For some, it’s been a way to shame me, a reflection on the stigma our society puts on the word ‘gay’. Yet for others, this question comes from a place of love and concern,” he continued.
It was during the school's inaugural Pride Week that the Melbourne Grammar vice school captain used his platform to deliver an emotional coming out speech in front of his entire cohort.
However Bartlett said publicly acknowledging his sexuality had been a struggle in the past.
"“I remember the first time someone asked me why I talked the way I did, I suddenly became very conscious,” he said in the seven minute video uploaded to YouTube.
“Actions that I’d previously taken for granted like walking, something we normally do without hesitation, were on my mind every second of the day.
Watch: The full speech. Post continues after video.
“It was an exhausting process that I kept up in years seven, eight, and nine... By the time I reached year 10, the constant charade that was my life had become too much, impacting my physical and mental."
It was learning more about history of the gay community and the atrocities people had endured simply for being different that eventually convinced Bartlett to do something about it, to prove their actions were not in vain.
Deciding to tell his close friends, he said he was "terrified" he would lose friendships over their reactions, some of which he'd had for half his life.
"Once I told them though, I felt like this secret I had been holding so tightly to myself could at last be released," he said.
"I finally had a handful of people with whom I could truly be myself."
The 17 year old concluded his speech by answering the initial question.
"I tell people I'm gay because I cannot get married in any state or territory. I tell people I'm gay because 1 in 14 transgender people will be murdered," he said.
Listen: Penny Wong talks about same sex marriage. Post continues after audio.
"I tell people I'm gay because to not do so would render a disservice to who I am, the community of which I'm a part, and to those who are yet to stand with us but may do so, in time."
Equality advocate and Victoria's 2017 Young Australian of the Year Jason Ball called it a powerful move.
"It’s a bloody brave thing to do to come out to your whole school, especially at a conservative all-boys school like Melbourne Grammar," he told Star Observer.
Thank you to the 1st XVIII footballers from Melbourne Grammar for inviting me to speak before the start of their Pride Game against Brighton Grammar on Saturday. As leaders within their school, by displaying the rainbow they sent a powerful message of acceptance and inclusion as allies to their LGBTI friends, including their vice-captain who came out to the whole school during assembly last week. What these students created was a first for the APS, and the start of a legacy that will outlast their time at school and go on to benefit the lives of so many young people within their communities. ????????????
“Every person who has the courage to come out makes it that little bit easier for the next....Coming out can transform the attitudes of people around us, whether at school, at work, or within the sporting world.
“Young people today are the most accepting generation in history and while many out of touch politicians continue to attack Safe Schools, our young people are simply taking up the fight against homophobia with their own hands and are making a huge difference.”
The school's 1st XVIII Football team marked the week with a Pride Game against Brighton Grammar on the weekend.
"As leaders within their school, by displaying the rainbow they sent a powerful message of acceptance and inclusion as allies to their LGBTI friends, including their vice-captain who came out to the whole school during assembly last week," Ball wrote on Instagram.
"What these students created was a first for the Association Public Schools of Victoria, and the start of a legacy that will outlast their time at school and go on to benefit the lives of so many young people within their communities."