What is remarkable about Washington, D.C., principal Pete Cahall's decision to come out as gay is what didn't happen. In the past, there would have been an uproar, but this time there was an overall acceptance of the educator's sexual orientation.
To be sure, there was the expected responses, such as from the Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas-based organization best known for anti-gay picketing at military funerals, which condemned the announcement and threatened demonstrations. And gay rights advocates, including local leaders, as well as Randi Weingarten, the openly gay leader of a national teachers' union, voiced their support.
But students who heard the announcement also were openly supportive, unsurprising perhaps given polls showing that the majority of Americans have said they support athletes who announce they are gay and that they support same-sex marriage.
At a schoolwide Pride Day event Wednesday, Wilson High School Principal Pete Cahall told his students that he had "hid in the shadows for the last 50 years" but was inspired by his students to take a step forward.
"I want to say publicly for the first time because of your leadership, care and support that I am a proud gay man who just happens to be the principal of Wilson High School," said the educator, who was flanked by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and David Catania, the district’s first openly gay council member.
"I have been in the shadows, but I am liberated today," Cahall told the audience, according to WJLA. "I have not made this declaration before, because I did not want my kids [the students] to think differently, or not respect me."
The principal spoke at the second annual lunchtime festival for more than 20 community organizations and government agencies that offer support and services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
Students greeted Cahall's announcement with a loud, long cheer, according to the Washington Post.
"I feel really proud of him, even though obviously he's an adult," said Marla Solow, 16, a junior who helped organize the Pride event. "I teared up … if it inspires other people to come out, that's great.”
Tao Marwell, a 17-year-old senior, said, "I have so much respect for him to be able to do that. It's a very brave thing to do."
Gray congratulated Cahall for "going public with who he is" and encouraged students to feel comfortable doing the same.
"There is nothing worse than walking around having to hide who you are," Gray said.
Westboro Baptist Church said it would protest Wilson High School's Pride Day, in a demonstration scheduled for Monday. "You should be hanging your heads in shame for such a thing," the church wrote on its website. More than 1,000 students have already signed up for a counter-demonstration.
Gray called Westboro's message a "disgrace."
"In my best biblical reference, they can go straight to hell," Gray said.