“So …” he wrote to his 4,591-and-counting Instagram followers, and the millions more he surely knew the message would reach, “I’m gay.”
And with that, local folk hero Tadd Fujikawa on Monday became the first openly gay man in professional golf.
With an accompanying photo that showed Fujikawa sitting against the side of a bed, shirtless and wearing a long chain with a cross, the post opened with an acknowledgement of the date — World Suicide Prevention Day — and a plea to potential detractors to “please be gracious enough to not push your beliefs on me or anyone in the LGBTQ community.”
“My hope is this post will inspire each and every one of you to be more empathetic and loving towards one another,” Fujikawa wrote.
What followed was a relatively brief but intensely personal account of the internal deliberations that drove Fujikawa to go public with his sexuality.
“I thought that I didn’t need to come out because it doesn’t matter if anyone knows,” he wrote. “But I remember how much other’s stories have helped me in my darkest times to have hope. I spent way too long pretending, hiding, and hating who I was. I was always afraid of what others would think/say.”
Fujikawa referenced his struggles with depression, which he previously addressed, and a social climate for those who identify as LGBTQ that has improved but not enough.
“Although it’s a lot more accepted in our society today, we still see children, teens, and adults being ridiculed and discriminated against for being the way we are,” he wrote. “Some have even taken their lives because of it. As long as those things are still happening, I will continue to do my best to bring more awareness to this issue and to fight for equality.”
Fujikawa invited those who are struggling to reach out to him, offering the all-caps reassurance: “YOU ARE LOVED AND YOU ARE ENOUGH…AS IS, EXACTLY AS YOU ARE!”
And as far as his father is concerned, that’s true for Fujikawa as well.
Derrick Fujikawa said he was not aware that his son was gay until he heard about the Instagram post.
“I’m happy for him,” he said. “I’m happy that he was able to come out and that he can get that monkey off his back.”
Fujikawa said he isn’t surprised that his son would risk backlash to be an inspiration for others.
“He wants to make it better for everybody,” he said. “He’s a loving kid and he has so much heart. The main thing is that he’s happy.”
Fujikawa first rose to prominence in 2006 when he qualified for the U.S. Open as a 15-year-old amateur, then made the cut at the 2007 Sony Open. He turned professional later that year.
Standing just 5-feet-1 (he was born three months premature and weighed just 2 pounds at birth), Fujikawa turned heads with his 300-plus-foot drives. Yet his pro career has been underwhelming, highlighted by wins at the Hawaii State Open on the Big Island spread seven years apart.
Fujikawa’s coming-out post this week was widely shared, but unlike earlier announcements by gay professional athletes like John Amaechi, Michael Sam and Jason Collins, it drew little response from other athletes.
The highest-profile athlete to respond was fellow golfer Curtis Strange, who tweeted simply, “Wishing you all the best, Tadd. A fan.”
The PGA of America Twitter account thanked Fujikawa for “standing up and delivering a powerful message.”
The relative silence was addressed in a column by Michael Bamberger for Golf.com, in which Bamberger noted, “the community of golfers is broadly conservative, with a baked-in sense of privacy and modesty. … Golf is not a place to practice let-it-all-hang-out.”
Yet Bamberger said the silence could be perceived as progress, and predicted that Fujikawa’s act would make it easier for other male professional golfers to come out.
Fujikawa did not respond to a request for comment.