(CNN) — Pete Cahall gripped a microphone with his left hand, a few pages of handwritten notes in his right.
Both hands trembled nervously throughout the speech he struggled to deliver on Wednesday before the student body at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C.
Odd, since Cahall is the school’s principal, and has spoken in front of these very same students countless times before. But he had never given a speech like this before. In fact, he had never spoken publicly about what he was going to say.
“I am a proud gay man that just happens to be the principal of Wilson High School,” he said to thunderous applause.
The announcement came at the school’s annual gay pride celebration. Mayor Vincent Gray and openly gay City Council member David Catania were in attendance.
“I never made this declaration before because I did not want my kids to think differently of me or to not respect me,” Cahall told the students. “I have been in the shadows, but I am liberated today.”
Later, the principal spoke of the moment.
“What I kept thinking was, how can I be the principal of Wilson and oversee a pride day and tell kids to be themselves and be who you are and then not do that? It’s hypocritical,” Cahall told CNN affiliate WJLA.
“That was so unexpected,” senior Tao Marwell told WJLA. “I had no idea. I have so much more respect for him now.”
Gray, whom Cahall thanked in his speech for his “care, leadership and support,” had some strong words for Westboro Baptist Church after the controversial congregation threatened to protest Woodrow Wilson for hosting a pride day.
“In my best biblical reference, my words to the people of Westboro in Kansas is they can go straight to hell,” said the mayor, according to WJLA.
Cahall said that he was inspired to come out by openly gay professional athletes Jason Collins and Michael Sam. He also said that a recent birthday might have had something to do with it.
“I just turned 50 a couple weeks ago, and I’m tired of hiding.”
CNN’s Justin Lear contributed to this article