Woodrow Wilson High School principal Pete Cahall stunned many of his D.C. students when he came out during the school’s gay pride celebration.
“That was so unexpected,” gay school senior Tao Marwell told ABC News affiliate station WJLA-TV in Washington. “I had no idea. I have so much more respect for him now.”
His hands trembling, his voice shaking, his speech stuttered, Cahall confessed something Wednesday he said he had waited many years to say publicly.
“I am a proud gay man that just happens to be the principal of Wilson High School,” he said as students cheered and clapped, according to WJLA.
It all unfolded at the school’s second annual gay pride celebration during Wednesday’s lunch hour. When Cahall was handed the microphone, he looked overwhelmed and uneasy, WJLA reported.
He said he had only told a small circle of friends about his sexuality, not even his family.
“I have been in the shadows, but I am liberated today,” Cahall told the audience. “I have not made this declaration before, because I did not want my kids [the students] to think differently, or not respect me.”
Cahall said the fears were obstacles in his mind because of the culture of when and where he grew up, not providing any details.
After the announcement at the LGBT event, Cahall was still shaking as students walked up to offer him hugs, WJLA said.
Cahall has not responded to ABC News' request for comment.
Human Rights Campaign director Ellen Kahn said, “What he did was very bold and courageous."
LGBT students are consistently bullied because of their identifies, both verbally and physically, she said. “He is in a high school where some students probably already find themselves to be attracted by the same sex, or have claimed to be a group of LGBT,” Kahn added. “When an adult comes out, it delivers a very powerful message.”
But not everyone welcomed the news.
Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka, Kansas, organization known for anti-gay picketing at military funerals, plans to protest Wilson’s Pride Day Monday.
“You should be hanging your heads in shame for such a thing,” the church declared on its website regarding the gay pride event. “Since your teachers haven’t taught you the basic lesson of why God destroyed Sodom, we’ll help you out.”
Nearly 1,000 Wilson students have signed up for a peaceful counter-protest Monday.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. who tweeted that the school has his full support, called Westboro church “backward thinking” and its message “a disgrace.”
“In my best biblical reference,” Gray said, “they can go straight to hell.”