Leyva admits that coming out was made even more difficult by his stubbornness and determination – traits that helped lift him to the Olympic podium three times.
“[The stereotypes were] such a big factor in it, just not giving those people the satisfaction of being right because it doesn't come from a good place,” Leyva told Olympic Channel this week. “It wasn’t somebody that was trying to help us understand [our sexuality]. It was just somebody pointing at us and that doesn’t feel good.”
On 11 October – National Coming Out Day in the United States - Leyva came out in a Twitter thread. He says he’s been surprised and amazed by the reaction he’s received.
“I didn't think it was gonna blow up the way it did,” said Leyva, who mentioned he’d heard from Olympic champions Aly Raisman, Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez. The responses were not only positive, they were also comforting, Leyva said.
“In the post, I said that I'm still trying to figure out between whether I'm a bi or pan. It was nice to have people be like, ‘You don't have to label it. You don't have to just be ‘a thing’. It's an ever-changing fluid thing, so you don't have to worry about that,’” the 2011 World parallel bars champion explained. “That was nice because that was certainly reassuring.”
Coming out had been on his mind for a while before his announcement. Leyva says he thought about doing it back in June for Pride Month, but reconsidered as news in the United States was focused on ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in the wake of death of George Floyd in police custody.
“I was like, ‘No, I'm not really that important,’” said Leyva. “And so I decided to just kind of forget about it, and I did forget about it.”
But a friend, his podcast producer, alerted him to October’s Coming Out Day, and suggested that Leyva, no stranger to allyship for the LGBTQ and other communities, post a message of support.
“I sent her the thread before I actually sent it out – her and two other of my really close friends. Almost immediately, they called me. One of them was like damn near in tears,” Leyva recalled. “And she's like, ‘What? Are you kidding? This is amazing. I'm so proud of you. Are you ready for this?’”
Ready or not, Leyva posted the thread on Twitter, something he says was a long time coming.
“I always knew. It was always just very rejected, internally rejected because of the way that we’re all raised,” he said. “And especially coming from Hispanic family, it’s very much rejected.
“As I was growing up, I would always somewhat reject [my sexuality]. But then, the more I accepted myself… I started realising more and more things,” continued Leyva. “I started realizing how normal it is.”
I hope to one day live in a world where your sexuality is as irrelevant as whether or not you're right or left handed. You know, it's such a non-issue. It literally means nothing that if you're just like, ‘Oh, you're left handed? That's cool. Oh, you're bi? That's cool.' - Leyva on what he hopes talking publicly about his sexuality can help achieve
That understanding hasn’t come easy, though he says going to therapy has been “phenomenally helpful.” He knows his words, which reach 230,000 followers on Instagram and more than 50,000 on Twitter, have an impact and the power of that platform motivated him to come out.
“If I get help one person be brave enough to live in their truth, then I feel like that that was the entire point of that post,” Leyva said.
The now 28-year-old, winner of all-around bronze at London 2012 and parallel bars and horizontal bar silver at Rio 2016, is no stranger to speaking out. He’s steadfastly stood by his female teammates through their very public reckoning with USA Gymnastics in the wake of revelations about Larry Nassar’s sexual assault and has consistently gone out of his way to lift up and recognise their excellence.
“People would ask me why do you think that the girls get more attention than the boys?” Leyva recalled. “I was like, because they're more successful and they deserve the attention. So, once we have the same success, I'm sure we'll have the same attention.”
Now, he’s hoping that some of the attention his announcement has drawn will help make a difference.
“I hope to one day live in a world where your sexuality is as irrelevant as whether or not you're right or left handed. You know, it's such a non-issue. It literally means nothing that if you're just like, ‘Oh, you're left handed? That's cool. Oh, you're bi? That's cool.’ Like, it's really nothing,” said Leyva. “The only way we can achieve that is by making it normal, by doing things like what I did by coming out publicly, by talking about it publicly, by just helping people understand.
“Everybody's different, you know?” Leyva continued. “And at the same time, we're not. We're all very similar in a way, and it's beautiful because the sense of community that we can acquire if we just sit and talk with each other is amazing."