Justin Laevens is one of 12 guys hoping to be crowned Mr Gay Belgium in August - and he needs your votes. | Eric Bordeaud'huy via Justin Laevens

Three years ago, Justin Laevens sent a shock wave through professional cycling, causing the men’s side of the sport to take a serious look at itself.

Laevens was 19 and competing in cyclocross for a pro team in his native Belgium. He discussed his sexuality with a sports website, explaining how his parents had been very supportive, but that the lack of LGBTQ visibility in cycling had caused him to worry about coming out in that environment.

There had barely been any out gay or bi male cyclists who had come before Laevens. Several journalists wrote feature articles exploring why — and then the peloton moved on.

Laevens was with his team, Proximus-Cyclis-Alphamotorhomes, for another two years, but he moved on too, announcing the end of his pro cycling career in February 2023.

“The last few years have been with ups but mostly with downs,” he wrote on Instagram, thanking his boyfriend Marlon, among others.

Although his experience as a pro athlete was bumpy, the coming out part of it was relatively smooth and his confidence as an out gay man has grown. 

Now 23, he’s leaning into that even more as a contestant in this year’s Mr Gay Belgium.

It’s a competition that’s been running for over 10 years and bills itself as being not just a pageant but also “a powerful statement in a world where there is still a lot of work to be done for LGBTQI rights.”

“My participation in Mr Gay Belgium came very unexpectedly,” Laevens tells Outsports.

“I came out of the closet in cycling and a lot was thrown at me. I’d like to share my experience with other athletes who are still stuck in the closet.

“I hope to win the title in order to achieve my goal in the sports world.”

He describes the decision to share his personal news as “a bombshell,” as far as men’s pro cycling was concerned. No one had shown the courage to come out before him.

“Fortunately, I received many positive reactions and I could go to the competitions with peace of mind,” he says. He gained thousands of new followers on social media and won an LGBTQ media personality award at the end of 2021 from OUTtv.

This week, Laevens has been talking part in events to mark IDAHOBIT in his home city of Kortrijk. Belgium has just been ranked third on the annual Rainbow Europe map of LGBTQ-friendly nations, behind only Malta and Iceland.

He says he often receives “requests for photo shoots, to judge drag queen shows and to attend fun events” — but he takes advocating for other LGBTQ athletes very seriously.

He has advice for those who want to follow in his footsteps.

“Be yourself and take enough time for yourself. Talk to friends and family about it at your own pace and keep focusing on being happy and liking yourself.”

Laevens is one of 12 finalists in Mr Gay Belgium. He is currently canvassing for votes via his Instagram account and on the OUTtv website.

The final of the pageant is in late August, with the winner going on to compete in Mr Gay Europe and possibly Mr Gay World too.

“I’d be extremely grateful to all those who vote for me,” he says.

Let’s hope the cycling peloton gets the message too, because Laevens is exactly the sort of positive LGBTQ role model the sport needs.