Trey Cunningham of Team United States competes in the Men's 110m Hurdles Semi-Final on day three of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field on July 17, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This Olympic-Class Athlete Came Out and the Response Was a Shrug

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 2 MIN.

Elite sports may have a reputation for homophobia, but when 25-year-old high hurdler Trey Cunningham – ranked 11th in the world – came out, it was only his parents that were slow to accept him. Everyone else barely blinked.

Before he emerged from the closet five years ago, Cunningham told The New York Times, he feared what the response might be from friends, family, and fellow athletes. He grew up in a "rural, quite conservative, quite religious" community in Alabama, which he characterized as "the sort of place where you did not want to be the gay kid at school."

All the same, the young track star felt a need to speak his truth. "We say our goals out loud," Cunningham said. "If there's something we want to achieve, we say it. Putting something in words makes it real."

When he did come out, Cunningham "got the sense that at least some of his friends had been 'waiting for me'," the Times relayed. As the young athlete put it, "I was really lucky to have a group of people who did not care."

"Though Olympic-level sports is, naturally, a cutthroat, competitive environment, he has found his sport to be instinctively supportive," the Times reported, adding that Cunningham thinks of track and field as a "sport for misfits."

All the same, "As one of the few active male athletes who have been comfortable enough to come out," the article noted, Cunningham is "still a rarity."

"There are lots of people who are in this weird space. They're not out," Cunningham explained. "But it is kind of understood."

One reason for lingering hesitation around coming out among queer athletes is a concern for their personal safety if their competitive careers take them to hostile places.

"He would, he said, have to consult his management before traveling to a meet in a country like Qatar, where homosexuality is a crime, for example," the Times noted.

Unlike some queer athletes who have come out in recent years, Cunningham didn't feel that he'd been held back by carrying a secret while still in the closet, the Times article said. "He believes, though, that while he is neither the first nor the only active athlete of his standing to discuss his sexuality in public, doing so has value," the article noted.

Though a top-rated athlete, Cunningham will not be going to the Paris Olympics – he came in ninth at last month's trials. Still, he seems destined to be a champion for queer athletes, and he's living proof that being out and being happy, well-adjusted, and successful go hand in hand.

A previous version of this article stated that Trey Cunningham is a high jumper. He is a high hurdler. This article has been corrected.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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