The Accidental Activist

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Jake Bain’s dorm room is a typical college crash pad, right down to the rumpled bedsheets and hampers overflowing with dirty laundry. Less common, for a space shared by two Division I football players, is the photo collage taped above his bed: Jake and his boyfriend kissing at their high school graduation; a romantic selfie of Jake resting his head on his boyfriend’s shoulder; the young couple holding hands at sunset.

The Indiana State University athlete’s very public coming out last fall — during a 13-minute speech inside an auditorium to his entire Missouri high school — was an act that continues to shape his life in ways he could not have imagined back then.

“If a future Division 1 football player can be openly gay,” Jake, at the time the popular square-jawed captain of the John Burroughs high school football team, said to those who had assembled, “then so can you.”

With that speech, in which he implored his classmates to be themselves, Jake became an accidental activist determined to change the national conversation about gay youths. His sharpest weapon? Social media, where he receives as many as 50 messages a week from as far away as Australia and from teenagers in countries where it is illegal to be gay.

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