WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Wilson High School, in Northwest D.C., held a gay pride celebration during its lunch hour Wednesday. And the school's principal made a very special announcement at the event.
His hands trembling, reading a speech he wrote the night before – a speech he was not sure he would actually deliver until the moment arrived – Wilson High School Principal Pete Cahall said something he had waited 50 years to say.
“I am a proud gay man that just happens to be the principal of Wilson High School,” he said as the students and staff around him erupted in cheers.
It all unfolded at the school's second annual gay pride celebration. And when Cahall handed over the microphone, he doubled over, overwhelmed. Until now, he said he'd only told a small circle of friends. Not even his family knew.
“What I kept thinking was, how can I be the principal of Wilson and oversee a pride day and tell kids to be themselves and be who you are and then not do that? It's hypocritical,” he said.
He said he was inspired to come out by openly gay NBA player Jason Collins and Michael Sam who recently became the first out player to be drafted by an NFL team.
Now, Cahall himself hopes to inspire his students – that they can come out too.
The response from the student body was immediately positive.
Wilson H.S. senior Todd Allen-Gifford said, “I was really surprised. That's for sure.”
Senior Tao Marwell agreed. “That was so unexpected. I had no idea. I have so much more respect for him now,” she said.
Sophomore Tymon Clark said, “Happiness is happiness, you know? If you [are] happy, I'm happy.”
Cahall said openly gay D.C. Council member and education committee chair David Catania had quietly supported him during this coming out process.
After Cahall’s announcement, Catania told the crowd, “What we have just seen from Principal Cahall is an incredible lesson in integrity and courage.”
Catania said he wished such a gay pride event was possible when he was in high school 30 years ago.
“And I think that's an incredible message. I think it should make everyone in the District proud of these students. And I’m here to show my support and gratitude,” he said.
Because of this pride event, the Westboro Baptist Church has threatened a protest at Wilson High School.
In response, students involved in the school’s Gay Straight Alliance like Aidan Parisi are preparing a counter-protest. “We cannot be intimidated by them. We will be here. We will be proud. We will be strong and united,” Parisi said.
Speaking at the rally, Mayor Vincent Gray had a message for Westboro.
“In my best biblical reference, my words to the people of Westboro in Kansas is they can go straight to hell,” Gray said. “Because that is not the behavior that we tolerate here in District of Columbia. And they can take it back where they came from and I hope the people run them out of there as well.”
In a press release, the Westboro Baptist Church said its protest outside the school will begin at 8:15 a.m. Monday. If the group does show up, Wilson students say they'll be ready with their counter-protest.