This blog is sponsored by Nike and their Be True Pride campaign.
Justin and I have been happily together for over four years now. We've also been living out and proud as gay men long before that. While we are so happy to be celebrating Pride as out and proud gay men, we've also made it a time to reflect on where we've been, the struggles we went through, and how there are so many now who may feel like we did just a few years ago. It isn't enough to be content, right? We also have to be willing to look back and see who needs a hand to pull them up or simply someone to listen. For me, looking back is largely about my love of gymnastics, but also the fear of coming out to my teammates. Sports have started to give so many amazing LGBTQIA+ individuals a platform to amplify their voices, but I grew up in a time that where that wasn't necessarily the case. I remember the fear of rejection in the gymnastics community and the sport community at-large really driving a fear to come out and be myself. Balancing looking back at how I felt and the current landscape, things have so drastically changed and - while there is still more work to do - I've witnessed amazing athletes be true to themselves and watched as friends, family, the LGBTQIA+ community, and others have rallied around them in powerful ways. As a former athlete, one of the most powerful statements I've seen made is huge brands proudly supporting the community, namely Nike's BeTrue campaign and the awesome Nike Air Max 720 BETRUE sneakers this year.
Perhaps one of the most powerful consistently for the past few years has been Nike. We've all grown up wearing Nike shoes and apparel. It's hard to not think of Nike when you think of work out attire and lifestyle wear. However, their Be True campaign has really resonated with me as a former athlete. A lot of my fear was grounded in the thought that I wouldn't be accepted by my teammates and the athletic community as a whole. I had dedicated my life to gymnastics, I had trained at the Olympics Training Center in Colorado, and I was competing for Penn State University. My life revolved around the sport. It was as much as part of me as my sexuality. I had such a hard time reconciling my passion for gymnastics with my desire to come out. By embracing intersectionality and the things that make us unique - whether you're an athlete or not - in sports, Nike's embrace of the powerful symbols of Pride (the rainbow flag, for example) have told the world that they stand with LGBTQIA+ athletes and individuals globally. These are the types of reminders that reinforce acceptance and understanding. These are the types of statements that make individuals like me feel seen, heard, respected, and represented.
Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in 1978. Since then, the rainbow flag has become a symbol of acceptance and love for the LGBTQIA+ community. You can't go to any Pride event without seeing it. The rainbow flag is a beacon that signals self-acceptance and the continued fight for equality. Like many, seeing the rainbow flag flying from homes or proudly hanging over the door of a church signals acceptance to me. I know I'm loved and welcome. I know I'm supported for who I am. By embracing the rainbow flag that Gilbert Baker created, Nike signals to everyone that we are supported and seen. One of the most important things that I've embraced about myself over the last few years is that I'm over the top. I'm flamboyant, and I don't want anyone to dull my sparkle. I spent years hiding it, so it's not going anywhere now. The Nike Air Max 720 BETRUE sneakers are an outward reflection of that, and I love them for that. Especially during Pride month, I love outwardly showing my love and support of the entire LGBTQIA+ community, and I've loved wearing these sneakers out and having people compliment because - not only does it come from a place of just loving sneakers - I also know that their compliment carries something more behind it. It's an acknowledgement and acceptance of who I am. Until we are all equal, we must continue being true to ourselves unabashedly until we are seen as we are: a rainbow of beautiful souls coming together in love and the pursuit of our passions. Happy Pride, everyone.