Campbell Harrison, a sport climber from Australia who is openly gay, won two titles at this weekend’s Sport Climbing Australia national championships.
Harrison won the titles in the lead (climbers have one chance to ascend as high as they can in six minutes) and combined (where climbers utilize more than one discipline) categories. It’s his third lead title. He is also a member of Australia’s national climbing team, was in qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics and says his performance this weekend makes him confident about being selected for the 2024 Australian team in Paris.
“I definitely have big dreams to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics,” Harrison told Outsports. “I think now that the speed [discipline] has been removed from the combined format, the event better reflects what it is that we train for. Winning this event was a great first step to show that I’m on the right track for selection next year.”
Climbing is a niche sport, but one I found fun to watch in its Olympics debut. What is most interesting from Outsports’ perspective is Harrison, 25, being proudly and openly gay and being a voice of inclusion for LGBTQ people in the sport.
“Competing as a queer athlete, I always hope that I can show other young queer climbers that being gay doesn’t have to be a barrier to participation in sport, but we can also be the best if we set our mind to it,” Harrison told Outsports.
“In school, playing sport with other guys was always a bit confronting, and sometimes it felt like they didn’t take my sporting abilities seriously because I was feminine. I hope in my adulthood I’m showing young people that you can express your sexuality and gender identity however you like, and still show your grit and determination on the sporting field.”
In a coming out story in June 2021, Harrison reflected on his journey from scared, closeted boy (being gay “became a secret that I was intent on taking to my grave”) to proud out adult:
Queerness is not a deficit that I was unfortunate to be born with, it’s an asset that both sets me apart from the crowd and connects me to so many others. By embracing myself as both a gay man and an athlete I have the ability to assure young people, who may be feeling the apprehension that I did, that gay people are not only all around us, but we don’t have to hide who we are to get respect.
It was not an easy journey and his struggles reflect themes we hear from countless LGBTQ athletes, but it was an invitation to speak to the LGBTQ climbing advocacy group Climbing QTs that made Harrison realize he could be an agent of change.
It was in this crowd that I saw a network of LGBTQ+ climbers and allies with a greater degree of visibility than I had ever witnessed before. The event definitely led to some deep and meaningful conversations, as my progressive parents struggled at times to understand why it had been so hard for me to share this part of myself with them, but simply sitting up on that stage with a microphone in hand and professing who I was was a powerful affirmation to myself. It opened the door to the kind, compassionate, and bold LGBTQ+ climbing community that I had all but given up hope of finding. In this group of people, I discovered the means to love all parts of myself and truly come to understand what it is to have pride.
Harrison celebrates his relationship with his partner, Justin Maire, on social media, which is one of the most powerful things any out athlete can do because it shows people who are still hiding of what’s possible.
You can follow Campbell Harrison on Instagram.