NBC 4 New York
An 18-year-old high school student in Parsippany, N.J. came out as gay in front of more than 300 of his fellow students during a school assembly. Jacob Rudolph tells Pat Battle why he did it.
A YouTube video of a New Jersey teenager coming out as gay in a school ceremony has gone viral, drawing praise for the boy's courage.
Jacob Rudolph plays the piano and trumpet, and has also done some acting on stage, but he says he had grown tired of playing a role in real life -- so when he received a best actor award at Parsippany High School last Friday, Rudolph spoke the truth.
"When you see me every day, you see me acting the part of straight Jacob, when the real Jacob is LGBT," he told some 300 classmates at the ceremony.
The 50-second speech changed Rudolph's life, and he's hoping it will change the lives of others.
"Being who you are isn't defined by anybody else but yourself, and societal pressures are something that deters a lot of people from acceptance," he told NBC 4 New York Thursday.
"I know for a fact that I have impacted people. Some of my friends have even come out of the closet as a result of my video, and that's exactly what I wanted," he said.
Rudolph had told his family he was gay a year ago. His mother said she and her husband were stunned by the classmates' reaction.
"It was an immediate standing ovation," she said. "My husband and I sat there stunned. It was instantaneous."
It was Rudolph's father's idea to post the video on YouTube. They'd weighed the pros and cons.
Rudolph said he feared his "friends wouldn't be my friends anymore, nobody would appreciate what I did or my message wouldn't get through."
But with more than 200,000 views less than a week later, the message is getting through, with the reaction overwhelmingly positive.
"If I can inspire people, that means other teenagers my age who have the same capabilities," he said.
Rudolph said it wouldn't have been possible without the love and support from his family.
"As a parent's rule, we get what we get for our children," said his mother. "We have no choice, we have no say in it. They are who they are going to be. It's the responsibility of a good parent to love and support them."