Jennifer Hudson shocked a gay diver when she helped him meet his hero on national TV

Ryan Dafforn and Ford McLiney met through Outsports, with each of them sharing their coming-out stories as gay athletes. JHud finally brought them together

Jennifer Hudson welcomes gay athletes Ryan Dafforn and Ford McLiney, who met through Outsports, on her show to support LGBTQ athletes. | Chris Millard/Warner Bros.

Jennifer Hudson and her producers knew a good gay athlete story when they saw it on Outsports.

Former college diver Ford McLiney, who is now coaching, wrote his coming-out story for Outsports just last month. In that story he talked about his struggles and triumphs.

He also mentioned the impact another Outsports story had on him.

Ryan Dafforn, then a swimmer at Purdue University, wrote his coming-out story for us in 2013. That year, Dafforn was one of 77 LGBTQ athletes who came out publicly. Today that annual number is so large, it’s not trackable.

Reading Dafforn’s story, and then connecting with the swimmer and coach, online helped McLiney in his own coming-out journey in diving. As Outsports’ motto says, “Courage Is Contagious.”

McLiney talked about that with JHud.

“Ryan’s story was a saving grace in a dark time,” he said. “Ryan was able to be the friend to me I needed when I was in a dark place. Ryan taught me to be authentic to myself.”

It was all part of Dafforn’s hopes when he shared his story publicly over a decade ago.

“I want to help create an environment, especially in athletics, where people don’t have to live in fear,” Dafforn wrote at the time.

As McLiney now lives his life openly, hoping to help others the way Dafforn helped him, a producer from The Jennifer Hudson Show saw his story on Outsports and reached out.

Featuring McLiney’s story on the show wasn’t the only part of the plan. They wanted to make the experience unique for not just McLiney, but also his athlete-hero, Dafforn.

The first-time meeting of the two men was magic.

After some long-awaited hugs, Hudson chatted with the guys.

“It takes a lot of courage to go on that journey of self-discovery,” Dafforn said. “It goes on on your own at first, for LGBTQ people. So to do that on your own, and then have the courage to reach out to someone, in his case a stranger, is incredibly courageous. A lot of LGBTQ people demonstrate that courage of self discovery and finding their support systems.”

Hudson also surprised McLiney with $10,000 from Denny’s to help support LGBTQ athletes.

It’s great to see these two gay athletes helping one another, and helping others as well. We hope Hudson and other shows like hers will continue to elevate the stories of gay, lesbian, bi and trans athletes like them.

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