Queer athletes need to know there is a space for them to exist and succeed.


Imagine: A tremendously gifted athlete. Best in their sport. A great teammate, giving and supportive, always the first to pick a teammate up or make a joke. Slowly, a new-found family is created in this intense space of athleticism and victories and losses.

And then this outstanding athlete comes out with a crippling anticipation that judgment will be passed, they won’t be accepted, and the teammates that cheered for them turn their backs. Not because a lack of ability to play on a higher level. But because of sexuality.

Except… that never happens. Instead, this second family is welcoming and supportive. The blood, sweat, and tears they shed together still means something. That previous fear slips into something comforting.

Because sexuality doesn’t define anyone in the sports world. It is not a hindrance or a negative.

While crafting Running With Lions, I knew there was a bigger tale to be told other than success and growth and an awkward romance between two ex-friends. It was that the darkness that has surrounded team sports and sexuality has gradually faded. In the place of fear of coming out and acceptance and losing the support of teammates is a bright streak of success and togetherness and an unbroken chain of athletes holding strong against those trying to shame LGBTQ+ athletes.

As a sports fan, my favorite part isn’t when a team scores a goal or wins a championship or takes down their biggest rivals. It’s watching the players bond and laugh and band around each other. It’s the moments when they stand against adversity that truly inspires. As an LGBTQ+ person, it’s even more heartening to see those moments when a queer athlete is the center of that moment. Those moments aren’t as rare as they used to be, but they still need a spotlight.

Queer athletes need to know there is a space for them to exist and succeed. Queer teens need to know there are spaces for them to thrive.

And that’s not something that can only come from their peers. I wanted to show that Sebastian had the support of his coaches, too. Adults play an important part in shaping how teens look at themselves in the mirror.

Is the world fully embracing queer athletes? Is the fight over?

Not yet. But there is an ever-growing hope splintering from stories about young adult athletes being met by overwhelming support. It’s happening. It’s continuing to happen across all sports.

In St. Louis, an openly gay high school football player was met with adversity from a hate group that tried to protest his very existence. Who came to his defense? The school’s faculty, alumni, students. His peers. His teammates.

This is what athletes find in team sports—a family of support. But, now, it’s not a unique situation only given to the athletes that aren’t LGBTQ. It’s accessible to queer people, too. Athletes like Robbie Rogers. Sonya Deville. Megan Rapinoe. Darren Young. Keelin Winters. Isadora Cerullo. Jake Bain.

An illustrated group of kids, of multiple identities, looking down as if in a huddle.The stigma is disappearing.

A big part of me knew this is the story that I wanted young adults to hear. Your sexuality is a wonderful part of you. Your connection with your teammates, your second family is a beautiful thing, too. And both can exist in the same space.

Running With Lions isn’t simply Sebastian’s journey with his teammates—his second family. It’s a journey that is happening across the world and I am watching happily from the sidelines as that light shines brighter.

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About Author

Julian Winters

Julian Winters is a former management trainer who lives in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and has been crafting fiction since he was a child, creating communities around his hand-drawn “paper people.” He began writing LGBTQ character-driven stories as a teen and developed a devoted fan fiction following. When he isn’t writing or using his sense of humor to entertain his young nephews, Julian enjoys reading, experimental cooking in the kitchen, and watching the only sports he can keep up with: volleyball and soccer. Running with Lions is his first novel.

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