Actor Colton Haynes emotionally accepted an award from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to celebrate his bravery in coming out as gay earlier this year (16).
The 28-year-old was chosen to receive the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) civil rights advocacy group's visibility award at the 17th annual gala in Seattle, Washington on Saturday (27Aug16).
The Arrow star was given the honor in recognition of the way he has "inspired countless LGBTQ young people across the country and around the world to live their lives as their authentic selves," HRC president Chad Griffin said.
Haynes was visibly moved as he took to the stage to accept the honor, and told the audience he was relieved that he can finally be himself.
"I'm asked to play so many different roles as an actor, but tonight I can actually be myself for the first time," the Teen Wolf star said. "It feels incredible."
The actor 'came out' to his family and friends back home in Kansas at the age of 14, but Colton only publicly discussed his sexuality when a fan commented on her idol's "secret gay past" on Tumblr.com in January (16).
Rather than ignore the post, Haynes responded on his personal Tumblr account, writing, "Was it a secret? Let's all just enjoy life & have no regrets."
Holding back tears, he addressed his decision to reveal his sexuality at the awards on Saturday, telling the audience: "My coming out was a bit splashy for many people. That's just how entertainment works. It makes a bigger deal out of everyone’s personal decisions."
Adding that being gay "came just as naturally as the color of my eyes", he acknowledged he had work to do to continue inspiring the up-and-coming LGBTQ community. "I'll accept this award as a promise," he said.
"I'm making (the promise) to the next generation of lesbians and gay men, bisexuals and transgender youth and I hope my example will give them the confidence and hope to be who they are, as well."
Sharing a snap of him from the stage with tears in his eyes on Instagram, Haynes shared his thoughts on his award with his followers. "I couldn't hold back the emotion. I don't feel especiall (sic) deserving of this recognition," he wrote in the caption.
"We all know there are many others who have come before me to blaze the trail as LGBT advocates & role models. I am walking in their shoes and following their lead. This is for all of my incredible fans & hope I can inspire y'all to be yourselves even though I hid for so long."