Brad Neumann watched a segment of Disney's widely-acclaimed remake of Beauty and the Beast in dismay.
The main characters were heterosexual, while Neumann lamented, "the fat, funny side kick was flamboyant and gay."
That portrayal, Neumann contends, follows the overdone stereotype that goes into people's heads when they think of a member of the LGBT community.
Neumann's boyfriend, Justin Rabon, said after his coming out, he had someone ask if he was going to start wearing dresses.
Makes no mistake, Neumann and Rabon are both rainbow flag enthusiasts. But they have a message to the masses: Being gay can look a lot of different ways. And no one person is the same.
Their relationship is an example. Both Division I sprinters at one point on Minnesota's track team, the fierce competitors hardly embody femininity or flamboyancy. Instead, they said their teammates have rationalized the duo's normality with the general reaction of, "oh, I guess anyone can be gay."
Neumann and Rabon's love story is not society's fairy tale. But it's their fairy tale. And one that they both hope can shatter stereotypes and save other closeted and misunderstood LGBT people struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation or be accepted by their peers and loved ones. That's why they both decided to pen essays at the start of Pride Month in Outsports, a destination for coming-out stories and in some cases, a lifeline url for those deeply struggling beneath the surface.
The couple concurred that their decision to go public was like a "second coming out experience." In Rabon's essay, he preached authenticity and noted that "once the real you is able to be seen, everyone will notice and nothing can stop you." In Neumann's essay, he detailed constantly feeling sick to his stomach any time he encountered homophobic rhetoric or bullying of openly-gay classmates "because that gay kid was brave enough to live the life I wanted."
Neumann and Rabon's love story started in late 2014. It was Thanksgiving time, and both athletes were down in the dumps emotionally. Rabon, who hails from Milwaukee and was running at the University of Wisconsin at the time, texted Neumann, a friend who he had run against in high school and beat in the 200-meter state title due to a false start. Never fully confronting his sexuality before, Rabon eventually told Neumann he was gay. The response from his seemingly straight friend? "Oh, that's cool." Shortly thereafter, Neumann told Rabon he was gay, too. Likewise, he had never told anybody his secret before, mostly due to growing up in the small rural farm town of Peshtigo, Wis., where being gay would've potentially cast him out as a leper.
After coming out to each other together, the decision to come out to their friends and families came easier. As did telling their teammates at Minnesota, eventually.
"After we came out to each other, we finally had someone to relate to," Rabon said. "That changed everything."
Neumann, who took a bit longer to come out to others, said that being his true self "allowed me to have an open conversation with my teammates, who I knew were conservative or didn't necessarily believe in gay rights."
"I think having them personally know me has changed their views," Neumann said. "And now, when they go around to the next person who doesn't believe someone who is LGBT should have the same rights, they'll say, 'actually, I know Justin and Brad.' It's about changing minds like that."
Rabon, who transferred from Wisconsin to Minnesota to be close to Neumann, echoed those sentiments.
"It's so important to get to know all types of people," he said. "You can't generalize one person. That's how bigoted people are. They'll group one extreme into an entire group of people and don't form an actual opinion. That's what forms the horrible homophobic, sexist and racist thoughts. In my life, I've had people come up to me and say, 'you're my first black friend.' It blows my mind, but just knowing someone who is a gay black guy can break down those stereotypes. ... And having straight allies are so important, in my opinion. It doesn't matter who you're into or what you look like, you're your own person."
Rabon said that once Neumann came out to team members and their relationship was no longer secretive, "everything flourished."
"I don't think heterosexual people realize how big of a burden it can be to hide half of your life," Neumann said. "The lies you tell over and over, it weighs on your self-esteem and self-worth, how you view yourself. There are so many subliminal signs that people can do to keep you (closeted). When being gay is the punchline to a joke, like it's something bad, hearing that makes it hard to accept yourself. That's why we're going public now, so people realize it's 10 times better being out."
Over the last two-plus years, the two have been inseparable — outside of their athletic endeavors.
"Brad has been my rock. We've both been changed by each other in the best possible way," said Rabon. He's now en route to get his personal training license. "It sounds cliche, but we bring out the best in each other."
Added Neumann, "I do consider this the most important time in my life. And Justin has been there every step of the way. We've literally gone through so many milestones together. He's been my first boyfriend, and hopefully the last. I just can't wait to see what happens in the future, and see how we take on the world together."