Ahead of the Belgian cyclo-cross national championships this weekend, the first Belgian pro cyclist has come out as gay. Justin Laevens (Proximus-AlphaMotorhomes-Doltcini) defined his sexuality in an interview with SportNU.be.
"I had been thinking about it for two years. It was a big step," Laevens 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 an estimated six per cent of Europeans identify as LGBTQ and over three per cent are gay, there have been surprisingly few male pro cyclists to come out as gay. In contrast, the women's peloton has a long history of having openly gay riders.
Other sports stars like Greg Louganis, Jason Collins and Brian Boitano came out after retiring, while more recently, women's football star Megan Rapinoe, figure skater Adam Rippon and US mountain biker Lea Davison have gained acceptance as gay athletes during their careers.
On his Instagram story, Laevens referenced a social media campaign by Belgian rower Simon Haerinck, #samesportdifferentsexuality that Haerinck hoped will "call out homophobia in sports and encourage tolerance and acceptance."
"Being out in the sports world is difficult," Laevens said. "I hope I can set an example for other athletes, for riders or for cyclo-crossers who may still be hidden in their shell."
The 19-year-old will start the Belgian Championships in Meulebeke on Sunday in the elite field, as the U23 and Junior races have been postponed due to the coronavirus restrictions. He has competed in 13 races this season, his best finish 21st in Poland at Bryksy Cross Gościęcin, and was 34th last weekend at Cyclocross Gullegem.
"I just received a message from the team. It is very muddy, that might be to my advantage," Laevens said about the course for nationals. "Many people think it is an honor to race with the big guys, but it is very hard. As U23s we start at the very back. Those guys have a very explosive start."
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