Tristan Cruz and Ian Lattea started as roommates of circumstance. Incoming freshmen on Ohio State’s cheer team have to live with one another, and they decided they were a match, based off a group text thread.
Three years later, they’re best friends, and found a whole new family in the process.
“It was the best support system that I had ever experienced before,” Lattea told Outsports.
Ohio State featured three out cheerleaders last year, including Lattea and Cruz. While Lattea decided to stop cheering, they still live together, and share a lifetime bond.
“It was really awesome. We had a little gay community on the team,” said Cruz.
The highlight of being an Ohio State cheerleader comes on game day, when the Buckeyes take the field in front of nearly 105,00 screaming fans at Ohio Stadium. The atmosphere is downright bacchanalian, and Cruz feels at home.
Think of that: an out gay cheerleader relishes the chance to perform in front of 100,000 rowdy football fans. We’ve come a long way.
“It is unlike anything else,” said Cruz. “I could be having the worst time, and as soon as pregame starts and ‘Script’ is playing and when one of the band members dots the ‘I’ and the place goes crazy, it will change my mood so fast.”
There are multiple out gay cheerleaders in the NFL, including on the Los Angeles Rams, the defending Super Bowl champions. The Rams sent five gay cheerleaders to the Super Bowl last season.
This year, the Panthers made history when they hired the NFL’s first out transgender cheerleader, Justine Lindsay.
All of that visibility is changing perceptions.
“I hope I’m setting a good example and a good precedent for other gay boys who want to join the team,” said Cruz.
Both Lattea and Cruz entered Ohio State as out gay men and enthusiastic cheerleaders. Lattea started cheerleading as a freshman in high school, and credits the sport with helping him find his identity.
“It really helped me find out who I was,” he said.
Cruz, for his part, calls joining cheer “definitely” the best decision he ever made.
When Lattea and Cruz started cheer at OSU, they instantly felt the love from their peers.
“[My teammates] were the most supportive people ever, and a lot of them lean a little right, and they were nothing but supportive of me the entire team, and all of my other teammates who are out,” said Lattea. “I love all of my old teammates so much.”
Cruz echoes those sentiments.
“It’s been nothing but positive. Nobody is judging anyone,” he said.
There are downsides to cheer. It can be a grueling sport physically and mentally, with long practices and immense stress. Feeling the need to refresh, Lattea stepped back from the team this season, but remains part of Buckeye Spectrum, a student-athlete organization dedicated to creating safe spaces for LGBTQ athletes.
Stories like Lattea’s and Cruz’ help.
“At OSU, I don’t even think I would consider them teammates,” said Lattea. “They were just my family.”