Cole Manders says Bobby Brooks inspired him.
By John Wright
Cole Manders, outgoing corps commander at Texas A&M University at Galveston, says he came out as gay to friends about three years ago.
But until recently, the maritime academy’s highest-ranking cadet didn’t make his sexual orientation a “very public or prevalent” part of his life.
Then, in March, Texas A&M University in College Station elected Bobby Brooks as student body president.
“I was encouraged by the support that he received,” Manders told OutSmart. “I’m sure Bobby’s story helped a lot of people. I thought, you know, maybe I can touch a few people, too.”
In early April, Manders read a letter from Kayla Moore, the wife of Alabama’s anti-gay former chief justice Roy Moore, opposing the nomination of Col. Kristin Goodwin, an out lesbian, as the commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
In the letter, Kayla Moore railed against same-sex relationships as “unnatural” and “incompatible with the basic structure of civil society.”
“After I read that, I thought back to when I was in high school, and how degrading it would have been [to read a letter like that] before I came out, when I was struggling with it,” Manders recalls. “I was provoked by Kayla Moore and encouraged by Bobby Brooks.”
Manders penned a column responding to Moore that was published by AL.com, one of the state’s leading news websites.
“During my darkest times of depression and anxiety, as a result of being Mrs. Moore’s unnatural and uncivil beast of society, I sought peace in learning about my strengths and what I had to offer,” Manders wrote, adding that because LGBT people are often forced to suppress their feelings, they learn “emotional intelligence.”
“With my days in command limited, I sit back and reflect on the year, and I am proud to [recall] the accomplishments we’ve made and the progress we’ve seen as a result of the tireless dedication all cadet leaders have exemplified here at the Academy,” Manders wrote. “In fact, I truly believe my sexual orientation is the single-biggest contributing factor to my success.”
Manders was set to step down as corps commander April 29, after spending the last year as “master of the ship” overseeing the school’s 600 cadets. He was appointed to the position last spring by a panel of 10 university leaders, some of whom knew he was gay.
After graduation, Manders plans to become a third mate on a commercial vessel—but also hopes to eventually enter politics. As for the response he’s received on campus since coming out, he says it’s been mostly positive.
“The only issue I’ve heard of has just been gossip or comments made off the cuff—and even then, they were very petty, very trivial, and really never bothered me,” Manders says. “It’s just so nice to see cadets in a very machismo environment, so to speak, show that public support for someone who is very different from them.”