Holty hopes to inspire students to be themselves, speaks on queer student-athlete experience

Junior Nathan Holty is a member of the Ohio State Men’s Swimming and Diving team as well as a member of the Buckeye Spectrum. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

For junior men’s swimmer Nathan Holty, the two most prominent pieces of his identity are being a swimmer and gay.

The Beavercreek, Ohio, native aims to help other queer athletes feel safe and included in the pool and more through his own performance and Buckeye Spectrum, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ student-athletes of all racial and gender identities.

As the country recognizes National Coming Out Day Tuesday, Holty said the need for support has never been greater.

“Being in Buckeye Spectrum has made me feel like I’m not alone, and that there are others queer athletes here and that we are all going through it together,” Holty said.

Holty said his path to being a student-athlete started when he was just 6 years old, after attending his sister’s swim practices. Once exposed to the swimming world, he begged his mother to let him join the swim team, he said.

“Swim quickly” became a key part of Holty’s identity, and he said it was this strong passion that helped him get through coming out and feeling alone in his sexuality.

Holty said he realized he was gay when he was in seventh grade. He said he struggled with the idea that he could be homosexual and still participate in sports as well as the fear of coming out to his family, friends and teammates.

“I watched the Olympics, and I had never heard of a gay Olympian,” Holty said. “There could have been one, but they just weren’t particularly out or anything like that. It was just hard for me to grasp the idea of ​​being on the world scale with my sport and being gay and how that could negatively impact me, my family or friends.”

Holty said he decided to first come out to his close friends outside of swimming because he felt most comfortable around them. After realizing how being himself made him more comfortable, he then came out to his teammates as well.

“When I was in the pool, I felt that disconnect between being myself outside of the pool and being myself in the pool,” Holty said. “I realized in order to be fully happy in what I am doing, I need to be fully honest with myself around my teammates.”

Holty said he then did the hardest thing he ever had and came out to his mother, who was also his former swim coach. She disapproved because of her religious values, so he said he turned to the pool to cope.

“Somehow, I managed to figure out how to cope with those problems by turning it into the pool and turning it into my training, which was very beneficial in the end,” Holty said.

Holty’s focused training earned him varsity all four years at Beavercreek High School, where he was named co-captain his senior year and set three team records. As a senior, he won the 2020 Greater Western Ohio Boys Swimming Athlete of the Year, was a three-time USA Swimming Scholastic All-American and was named in the 18 & Under World 100 List in the 400 Individual Medley.

His high school achievements caught the eye of Ohio State director of men’s and women’s swimming and diving Bill Dorenkott, Dorenkott said.

“He sounded like a good kid and a good fit for the university and for our program,” Dorenkott said.

When choosing where to continue his swimming career, Holty said he looked for a place where he would be both challenged and met with acceptance and support.

“When I sat down with the coach and talked about the whole culture and everything, he explained to me that everybody was really accepting of everybody with open arms, and nobody has ever felt that they’ve been ostracized from the team,” Holty said. “Hearing those words was very comforting, and it definitely made me feel like I should come here.”

Dorenkott said the program highly values ​​respect and aims to make that a part of the team’s culture.

“I’d like to think that we have an environment that’s safe and inclusive, and it is very various,” Dorenkott said. “I’m proud that Nate’s a part of that, and we celebrate that.”

To further acceptance among athletics, Holty joined six other student-athletes in co-founding Buckeye Spectrum with the assistance of student-athlete engagement coordinator Alex Sommer.

Holty said Sommer reached out to student-athletes, asking if anyone was interested in developing a program focused on inclusivity and support of queer student-athletes, noticing many went back into the closet after they were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Holty said he was excited by the idea and became a co-founder.

“I thought this was a great way to start getting involved in something at school as well as being a part of the community where I haven’t been able to really be a part of the community at home under my family and their values,” Holty said. “I decided to take a step out of my comfort zone and join the group, and start talking to, and meeting other people and learning their experiences with their sport and how much value we saw with having a student-athlete queer group together.”

The organization meets in person for biweekly meetings focused on both bonding and education, as well as hosting three annual signature events. These include the National Coming Out Day game, the former student-athlete panel and the end-of-year Queer-BQ.

Holty said finding and focusing on your passion is important in the coming out process, which is what he did with swimming and what got him to where he is today.

“It’s finding your passion, it’s finding what you love to do,” Holty said. “Truly find your passion for something that you can really dive into and associate yourself with. That’s what I did with the pool.”