Molly Wolf is proud to show her Pride on and off the lacrosse field
Molly Wolf walked on to the stage in her Bryn Mawr High School graduation cap and gown. It was 2012, and the 17-year-old lacrosse goalie was about to give her graduation speech to 500 friends and family members in Baltimore. She stood in front of the mic and, taking a deep breath, looked down at the crowd watching her in rapt attention. Pressing her palms together, she said the following words that would change her life forever:
The hardest part about realizing you're attracted to girls is that it's not a simple question. Asking yourself, "Am I gay?" is in no way like asking, "What's the weather going to be like tomorrow?" Asking yourself this question has the same effect on you as jumping out of a plane and wondering if you remembered to strap on your parachute.
You're not just asking yourself if you want to make out with girls, you're asking yourself so much more. You're asking yourself, "What the hell are my parents going to say? What are my friends, co-workers, teachers, classmates and family members going to think? Who will still love me? And who will start hating me? How can I continue on being the same person? Or really, am I the same person I was all along?" This one question has so much urgency that, in reality, it's not just one question at all. It's a free fall into the unknown without a parachute.
Her voice quivered. Her eyes welled up with tears. She was silent for several seconds, taking in what she'd just said.
"You got this, Molly!" somebody yelled from the back of the room.
Wolf had no idea how much she needed to hear those words. Inhaling, she continued with her speech.
Her mom, Ellen, watched her daughter give her coming-out speech to the entire world, her entire world, smiling throughout. Molly had come out to her in 10th grade, a quiet text sent to her one morning while secretly peering into her mom's bedroom to make sure she'd read it and was OK with it. Once she saw her mom smile, she pushed the door open, running into her arms.
"Molly, this is great! Do you want to talk about it? What do you want to do? Do you want to tell people?" Ellen said.
"We can talk about telling people, but I just wanted you to know first," Molly said to her.
Don't tell me being gay is a choice. No one would choose to be physically and emotionally abused. No one would choose to be disowned by their own families and risk being kicked out of their homes. No one would choose to feel like they don't belong. LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. The pressure and hatred from society can push a person to do unimaginable things.
When Molly came out to Ellen, it was the most exciting -- even ordinary -- thing that could have happened. Her daughter is gay. According to Ellen, it's just another facet to an already amazing human that Molly is. And it was also great -- really great -- because Ellen knew exactly what Molly was going through. They would go through this -- the challenges, the pitfalls and the excitement -- together.
Ellen had come out herself just two years previous to Molly.
I don't want sympathy, or for you to feel sorry for me. If you get anything out of what I've said to you, it's that you should embrace who you are. You aren't alone. Embrace your identity, take chances, jump out of the plane. I promise that you will have the love and support that create the parachute.
You will be protected during the free fall.
She finished her speech, holding on to the mic stand for support. She let out the breath she'd been holding for what felt like minutes.
And then, loud, thundering applause.
Seven years later, Molly Wolf is a professional goalie playing for the Women's Professional Lacrosse League. And as though the universe heard her story and aligned the stars, she kick-started the second season of the league the first week of June -- Pride month -- playing for the WPLL Pride.
It was the first weekend of June, the WPLL's season opener at Gillette Stadium. A girl about 4 years old walked up to Molly, holding her mother's hand shyly. Molly had just played her first match of the season against WPLL Fight. The Pride had lost 6-4, but that didn't stop Molly from stopping to chat with every single fan, friend and family. She signed autographs, high-fived friends. When she saw the girl, she squatted on the floor, ready for a conversation with her.
"Hi! How are you doing?" she said enthusiastically to the girl.
"I am good. Your lacrosse stick is big!" the girl said.
"Is it? Would you like to play someday?" Molly said.
"Yes! I'd like that!" the girl said.
When Molly is not playing lacrosse, she is working with kids, coaching recreation leagues and interacting with them. The most important thing she could do is be as open as possible with kids, to have conversations about uncomfortable topics, to make them feel at ease.
Molly's hope for professional leagues, and for people in general, is that people have the same open conversations with each other.
When Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014, he kissed his boyfriend. Molly nervously went on social media to see how it was received, and she saw that most people were excited and happy for Sam. Molly's wish is for that to be the case with every gay person in every league, every sport and every school. She's hopeful that five years from now, when kids grow up to play sports, they'd see her journey -- as well as the work she's done with kids -- and realize they can be whoever they want and play all professional sports, not just lacrosse.
"For LGBTQ folks, especially in sports, there is such a stigma around it. They either want to say super negative things about it or they don't even want to talk about it. Where I would love to have an open-table discussion with anyone and anyone and anyone," Molly said. "That's how change happens."
When her mother moved to Palm Springs, California, a few years ago and helped launch a start-up called The Sanctuary for at-risk LGBTQ young adults, Molly immediately decided to volunteer during the summers. The start-up provided transitional homes for LGBTQ young adults from 18 to 22 years old who were thrown out of their homes or foster homes because they were gay.
The nonprofit organization provides care and a leg up for the young adults to get back to their studies and work. Molly and Ellen helped paint the houses, assemble furniture and set up the garden. But, more than anything, Molly was just there for support. She talked to them, hung out with them and helped them realize that they are not damaged, that they are seen and accepted.
"She is patient, so she would put herself in situations where she'd listen to stories they'd tell and give them feedback that just because that's how somebody treated you, that's really not who you are. You can walk away from that. That's really important with those kids because they have been beat up so much, and just to have a person that's not going to judge them about good, bad decisions, whatever, was really a valuable thing," Ellen said.
There was also something about the hard manual labor that bonded them all -- especially Ellen and Molly -- in a permanent way.
The Wolf family was no ordinary one. More than once, people have said to them, "Somebody should make a TV show out of your story."
Two years before Molly worked up the courage to come out to the world, her parents divorced. Immediately after, Ellen approached Molly one morning when she was getting ready for school and said, "Molly, there's something I need to tell you. I am gay."
Molly was happy for her mom, but she was also slightly taken aback simply because the news wasn't something that had been in her radar. She was herself going through all these doubts and questions. She didn't feel the way her friends did when they talked about boys. She was terrified of how people would look at her after she came out.
Sometimes, it was hard for her to get out of bed in the mornings. She knew who she was deep down, but she was too scared then to confront it. Combine that with her parents getting divorced and her mother coming out, and it was a challenging couple of years as a teenager.
When she did decide to tell her mom two years later, one of the first things she said to her was, "I am sorry I left you hanging there for two years, Mom!" and they laughed about it.
Despite having doubts, Molly had a feverish optimism for life. When she was a child, she'd wake up and ask her still groggy parents what was for breakfast. "Cereal," her mom would mumble. "Yes, yes, yes!" she'd yell and jump around the house as though her mother had planned an elaborate breakfast of pancakes, waffles, bacon and orange juice.
Their family dynamic was unique. "Millennial," Ellen called it. Even though Molly's parents were divorced, her mom and dad remained good friends, coming together for holidays and family gatherings. Molly had two siblings, an older brother and a younger sister, and despite the changes, they all wonderfully jelled together, even getting closer than they used to be.
They had two gay members in the family, and they were happy and proud. She knew even then that she was the luckiest girl alive.
And when things didn't go so well -- when she heard an unfriendly comment from a friend of a friend or a homophobic remark by a stranger -- she'd go home and hug her mom, and without having to say a word to each other, they knew what the other person was going through, and they'd just be there for each other.
"Molly wears her heart on the kneecap, rather than her sleeve. So, it gets bruised a little bit from time to time, but that's how she knows how to live," Ellen said.
Ellen's dream for her daughter: to continue working with children, to be open and honest about who she is and to be a champion of the underdogs.
"Molly is always aware of the feelings of people around her -- she's always the person that says, 'If I can make life better for one person today, I am going to do that,'" Ellen said. "And in doing that she is showing the world something so important right now: You can be a strong, gay woman, and you can have a perfectly lovely life."