WASHINGTON (AP) - The principal at one of the District of Columbia’s largest public high schools told students for the first time Wednesday that he is gay at a Pride Day event.

Wilson High School Principal Pete Cahall was joined Wednesday by Mayor Vincent Gray and by the first openly gay member of the D.C. Council, David Catania.

“I want to say publicly for the first time, because of your leadership, care and support, that I am a proud gay man who just happens to be the principal of Wilson High School,” Cahall said.

The 50-year-old school leader said he hid in the shadows for the last 50 years but was inspired by his students to come out publicly for the first time. He said he was also inspired by recent revelations from gay professional athletes, including the NBA’s Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam.

Students greeted the announcement with loud cheers for their principal.

For years, being gay was a fireable offense in schools. Now more gay teachers and school administrators are open about their sexual orientation. Despite changes in society, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students still face bullying in school. Wilson High School’s pride event is unique among D.C. high schools.

Cahall’s announcement drew expressions of support as well as criticism from those who oppose gay rights. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council said a public high school should not be holding a gay pride event.

Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church said it plans to protest Wilson’s pride event on Monday. About 1,000 Wilson students are planning a counter protest.

Washington’s mayor had some choice words for the planned Westboro protest.

“In my best biblical reference, they can go straight to hell,” Gray said.