Like many of us, Leo Ragazzo found Emory because of its strong academic reputation. What makes Leo’s discovery of Emory a bit unique is that he was recruited to play for the Emory University men’s varsity soccer team. Wearing the number 13, Leo appeared in 37 games during his playing career and has been recognized for his defensive talents as a UAA Defensive Athlete of the Week during his final season.
Leo came out to his parents after a soccer game during his second year, and he explained that he wanted them to be some of the first people he told. He found his coming out experience to be a very positive one because he “encountered a lot of support through the initial ‘coming out’ process.” The resources provided through the Office of LGBT Life proved important to this positive experience because he was able to attend some of the discussion groups and connect with other members of the Emory LGBTQ community.
For Leo, coming out was his opportunity to express himself completely. In his own words, “it wasn’t like I was keeping this secret that was about to shoot out my ears or anything, but just the ability to express myself completely was such a powerful, new experience.” He reflects that his second year was also the time when he discovered his passion for the environment and animals, and was also when he started his work in Residence Life as a sophomore advisor.
Looking back on his time as a varsity athlete, Leo sees an area of his undergraduate experience that was less positive. As far as he’s aware, he’s the first openly gay man on the varsity soccer team in either a long while or possibly ever. Because of this, he experienced micro-aggressions on a regular basis:
I thought they would’ve stopped after my team knew I was gay, but that didn’t really happen, unfortunately. There were many “teachable moments” I guess you could say. A lot of explaining why certain words or phrases might be hurtful even if my teammates “didn’t mean it that way.” I think Emory varsity athletics can improve here. I think there is a space to make Emory athletics as a whole a more LGBTQ-inclusive environment. I won’t say my experience as an openly gay varsity athlete was horrible, because it wasn’t. In fact, some of my best Emory memories are on that field. But, I will say that environment wasn’t always a safe space for me.
He admires Emory’s dedication to supporting LGBTQ students, but also understands that for many students, staff and faculty, the opportunity to find a safer space to come out may not exist. Leo hopes the events he became familiar with that helped him find power in his identity will provide others with the same feeling.
As Leo prepares to graduate, he is completing majors in Environmental Sciences and Biology and plans to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Leo has also remained very involved in Residence Life and now serves as the Senior Resident Advisor for Hamilton Holmes and J. Pollard Turman Halls. It was a Residence Life-related class assignment where he finds one of the most reflective moments of his four years at Emory. The assignment was to facilitate a presentation providing ten words describing who he is. Leo was quick to share the last word: proud. “I am proud of who I’ve become, and I know being a part of the LGBTQ community [at Emory] has helped me get there.”