It’s Pride month in Northern Ireland, where it’s still not legal for same-sex couples to marry. But that didn’t stop native son and out athlete Chris McNaghten from returning home this past weekend with his fiancé, to enjoy Belfast Pride together.

“It’s my first pride with my fiancé John,” the Irish strongman told the BBC. McNaghten, whose nickname is “Big Bear,” confessed one thing they’ve never done back home is display affection for one another.

“Whenever we have been in London together, there’s no issue with holding hands, there’s no issues being in restaurants with each other or kissing or showing any type of affection with each other,” he said, according to the British tabloid The Sun.

Chris McNaghten, right, and his fiancé, John

McNaghten describes himself as a trailblazer in his sport. “I’m the first openly gay strongman to come out in the UK and Ireland, possibly even Europe,” he said.

But he takes the view that being gay is just one facet of who he is. “I want to be Ireland’s strongest man,” said McNaghten. “I don’t want to be Ireland’s strongest gay man.”

“The shock that people have that you’re gay — I don’t think it’s something that matters to me. I generally just think it’s gossip.”

The Sun, being a tabloid, chose a tawdry quote to headline its story, about what it called “the parallels between the macho sport and drag queen performances.”

“I absolutely love drag queens,” said McNaghten. They’re the mummies of the gay world. Drag is about putting on a performance and about performing for people. It’s the exact same way whenever I’m on stage competing.”

McNaghten, 30, is from Larne, in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland, to the south, overwhelmingly voted in favor of marriage equality more than four years ago.

BBC Northern Ireland interviewed McNaghten and other out athletes for a documentary tied to Belfast Pride, where the theme this year was “RightsNow.” But after anti-LGBTQ forces in Northern Ireland reportedly voiced concern that the BBC was endorsing same-sex marriage by participating in Belfast Pride, the British-owned broadcaster took a step back and declared the network was not formally supporting LGBTQ rights. Such is the situation in McNaghten’s homeland in 2019.

As for himself, the strongman told interviewers that coming out wasn’t a problem for him, but he did stress about telling two important men in his life.

“There was one person who was a coach to me and had been a best friend for a long time and it was important for me that he was okay with it and he accepted it,” said McNaghten. “I was just as nervous about telling him about it as I was about my dad. It was a wee bit emotional, that was just a massive weight off my back.”

You can learn more about Chris McNaghten at his Bear Strong website and by watching the film by and about him of the same name, which has been viewed more than 2m times.