In an emotional sit-down interview with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, the former Bachelor revealed publicly that he is gay, explaining that he came to terms with his sexuality while reflecting on himself over the past year. Now, Underwood says he's the "happiest and healthiest" he has ever been.
"I've ran from myself for a long time. I've hated myself for a long time, and I'm gay. And I came to terms with that earlier this year and have been processing it," the reality star said. "The next step in all of this was letting people know. I'm still nervous. It's been a journey, for sure. I'm emotional, but in such a good, happy, positive way."
Underwood told GMA in a statement Thursday, "The support and messages from everyone in my life (my old teammates, my friends, family, coaches and even my pastor) have meant the world to me."
The morning show also aired a new clip from the exclusive interview, in which Underwood recalls trying to find "any label besides 'gay' " while growing up.
"I have the most loving and supportive friends and family," he said, "but I also felt like I had a lot of pressure on me, growing up in the church and also in sports as an athlete, I was always chasing after a label. Because I wanted any label besides 'gay.' "
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Countless members of Bachelor Nation spoke out in support of Underwood after the interview Wednesday, including Hannah Godwin, the runner-up on Underwood's season, who told PEOPLE that she supports him and wishes him "the very best."
"I support Colton for having the courage to finally be able to live his life authentically," she said. "Nobody should have to hide who they really are. I'll always wish Colton the very best and hoping he has found his peace."
Longtime Bachelor host Chris Harrison also expressed his support for Underwood in an Instagram post. "Very proud of you today @coltonunderwood Happy to see you stand up and openly live your truth," Harrison wrote alongside a picture of the pair. "You have my love and support my friend."
Demi Burnett, who came out as queer following her time on Underwood's season, tweeted, "Welcome to the community brother."
Additionally, in a statement shared with PEOPLE, the executive producers of the popular franchise voiced their support. "We are so inspired by Colton Underwood's courage to embrace and pursue his authentic self. As firm believers in the power of love, we celebrate Colton's journey in the LGBTQIA+ community every step of the way," the statement said.
Underwood led season 23 of the ABC dating show in 2019. He was dubbed the so-called "virgin Bachelor," and virginity became a frequent talking point throughout his season.
He ultimately gave his final rose to contestant Cassie Randolph, though they didn't get engaged. They dated until announcing their split in May 2020, two months after she helped nurse him back to health after he contracted COVID-19.
Their breakup was tumultuous. Months after the announcement, in September, Randolph filed a restraining order against Underwood, alleging that he placed a tracking device on her vehicle and that he had shown up to both her L.A. apartment and her parents' house in Huntington Beach, California, unannounced.
She claimed that on one occasion, Underwood loitered in the alley outside her bedroom window of her parents' home at 2 a.m., and said that he started sending her alarming text messages.
In early November, Randolph dropped the restraining order against Underwood. In a statement to PEOPLE at the time, Underwood said the two "were able to reach a private agreement."