Running Out in the Open

Luke reflects on his experience on coming out as bisexual and how he is paying it forward in continuing to create a new, more accepting culture in sports for the LGBTQ+ community

By Luke Novak

This is part of the “My Story Matters” collection. To read the other stories click on the links below.

“On the Path to Allah” by Adama Kaba – Men’s Soccer
“The Roots of Change” by Khailah N-R Griffin – Track and Field

“The Box Labeled “Other”” by Sammi Pak – Field Hockey

Entering my sophomore year of college, I had things figured out. I was coming off a year of personal bests on the track and was poised to make my way into the 7-man cross country “A” team. On top of my on-track accomplishments I had finally made friends, and if I was lucky enough I might even find myself a girlfriend. 

A semester later, I found myself sidelined by injury and dating my best friend – another man. There’s never a good time to have a “gay crisis” but dealing with an upheaval of my personal identity meant fighting a two-front war for my sanity.

My concerns around this new revelation were not totally unfounded. Historically, the culture of athletics has not taken kindly to men who don’t fit the traditional mold of masculinity. “Locker room talk” can be peppered with homophobic slurs and jokes. That cultural archetype held especially true at my high school, and its presence in sports makes it difficult for queer people to be honest with teammates and competitors about their identities. In the moment, I felt like someone discovering my sexuality would endanger the close relationship between me and my teammates.

Fortunately I was not alone at Northeastern as I might have been elsewhere. I had teammates who were also queer, and their presence was vital to my success in growing comfortable with my identity. I interacted with them and took note of how my other teammates treated their identities. In doing so I learned that my fears had been totally unfounded – nobody was going to change anything upon learning that I wasn’t straight. As I learned, I relinquished my fears of not being accepted.

A year and a half later I was comfortably out to my friends and teammates, in the middle of a hard summer of training gearing up for my senior year cross country season. Since my sophomore year, all my LBGTQ+ teammates graduated, leaving me the sole representative on the team. After reflecting for a while on that fact, I determined it was important for me to be visibly queer as an athlete, just like my teammates in years prior. If someone else like me joined the team, my presence would be as important as my teammates’ were to me. Being “visible” doesn’t require a big gesture. Sometimes it can be as simple as racing in a pair of socks adorned with the LGBTQ+ pride flag – how I chose to express my identity publicly.

Photo by Madison Neuner

Gestures like mine are small, but having come to terms with my identity, I know that even small gestures matter a lot to other runners that might be uncertain about how the running community will perceive them. Even in 2020, gay and bisexual men remain grossly underrepresented groups in sports, and only way that can be solved is by fostering a culture welcoming to LGBTQ+ people at all levels. I had teammates there to help me work to become comfortable being a bisexual athlete. It’s my hope that I can do the same for somebody else, helping to build that culture.