An elite teenage cyclist has become one of the first pro male riders to ever come out as gay. Justin Laevans says he did it so he can be an example to other cyclists struggling with their identities.
In an interview with the Belgian website sportNU.be, Laevens said he’s been wrestling with the decision for a couple of years. The 19-year-old understands he’s a trailblazer.
“I had been thinking about it for two years. It was a big step,” he said. “My parents were very positive about it. I was especially afraid of the reactions of bigger riders or teams, that they would look at me differently, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
While numerous high-profile female cyclists have come out over the years — German rider Judith Arndt became the first out lesbian to medal at the 2012 London Olympics; two-time U.S. Olympian Lea Davison is openly gay — there are far fewer on the men’s side. This is a trend we see across many pro sports, ranging from soccer to basketball.
Former world champion Graeme Obree revealed he was gay in 2011, disclosing he pondered suicide because of his sexuality.
In his announcement, Laevens acknowledged he doesn’t know any other active openly gay male cyclists.
“I didn’t find it difficult to express myself, but I did in sport, because I don’t know any [cyclist] who is gay,” he said.
The Belgian native has asserted himself as an elite rider this season, according to Cycling Weekly, finishing 34th at a major Cyclocross event last weekend.
Still shy of his 20th birthday, Laevens has a long career ahead of him. He’s already an inspiration.
“Being out in the sports world is difficult,” he said. “I hope I can set an example for other athletes, for riders or for cyclocrossers who may still be hidden in their shell.”
You can follow Justin Laevens on Instagram here.