Rob Kearney, left, with his husband, Joey Aleixo.

Rob Kearney is one of the world’s strongest men. He’s also gay, married and proud of who he is, so much so that he bills himself the “World’s Strongest Gay.”

What sets Kearney, 28, apart is how unabashedly out and open he is about being gay and having a husband while also being an elite athlete. He won a major strongman title this year, had Arnold Schwarzengger congratulate him on his wedding and has qualified for the 2020 Arnold Strongman Classic, the most prestigious event in his sport.

His profile has also led him to become an advocate for LGBTQ people. This is what Kearney told a group of middle school students in Massachusetts, where kids are at an age where they start to become aware of their sexuality.

“The biggest thing I want you all to realize is, you know, once you aren’t afraid to actually be yourself, that’s when you actually get to experience real happiness,” he told the middle-schoolers, sporting his trademark rainbow mohawk. “For me, it’s when I got to experience real love, once I was finally able to break down all those walls and accept me for who I actually was, it completely changed my life and let me be able to talk to students like you about the things that I’ve done in this world.”

For his athletic achievements and especially for his activism, Outsports has selected Kearney it’s Male Hero of the Year.

“HOLY MOLY!!!” Kearney replied in an email when told of his selection.

”Honored is an understatement, honestly. To be rewarded simply for being myself and being unapologetically open about my sexuality/relationship really gives me purpose in everything I am doing and have done.

“For me, I feel LGBTQ+ visibility in professional sports is so important for our youth (and everyone) to see, and that is why I am the ‘Worlds Strongest Gay.’ I want to show the world that I have an amazing relationship with my husband [Joey Aleixo], all while competing at the top level of the most hyper-masculine sport in the world, Strongman!

“Through this journey, we hope to change the dialogue and break the stereotype of what people think ‘gay’ is. To be chosen as the 2019 Outsports Male Hero of the Year is an honor I will cherish forever and use as motivation to help change the world for the better.”

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By being a very visible gay athlete with a strong social media presence, Kearney regularly deals with trolls.

“Social media is the perfect medium for everyone to have a voice, both good and bad,” Kearney said.

“I deal with negativity and homophobic messages and comments on a daily basis and it has only increased since my popularity in the sports world has increased. I use those messages as motivation in my training and when I compete to push harder than every before, because there is no better way to silence the hate, than to win!”

Previous Outsports Male Hero Of The Year winners:

2018: Collin Martin

2017: Mack Beggs and Harrison Browne

2016: Amini Fonua

2015: Billy Bean

2014: Conner Mertens

Outsports has divided year-end Athlete and Hero awards to highlight accomplishments of people across genders. We understand that not everyone fits into the binary gender world currently established in sports, and we will honor that with additional awards when appropriate.