Travis Shumake is makes waves as an out gay drag racer (Photo: Twitter/Grindr)
We are increasingly seeing athletes come out as queer, but it is still unusual for sportsmen and women in very traditional sports disciplines to disclose their sexuality and gender identity. This was also the case for the US’s oldest and most conservative motorsport — until a few weeks ago.
Driver Travis Shumake offered up a different drag race altogether when he became the first openly gay man to take part in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Nationals in Topeka, Kansas.
Shumake — whose father Tripp Shumake was also well known in the drag racing scene — took part in his first professional drag race on 19 August in a car adorned with rainbow colours, and designed and sponsored by Kansas Pride.
The 37-year-old gay drag racer had the Grindr logo emblazoned across his chest, and said of the collaboration with the gay dating app that “authentic representation matters”, and he was “proud to be turning heads and raising eyebrows with Grindr as a partner”.
“As a gay man in America’s oldest conservative Motorsport, authentic representation matters. At 280 MPH, I’m proud to be turning heads and raising eyebrows with Grindr as a partner”@ShumakeTravis is queering the racetrack as the first openly gay professional drag racer 🏁 pic.twitter.com/c7KzU4p8Pr
He took part in the NHRA Nationals in a beast of a dragster, no less than 24 feet long (that’s just over 7 metres) and capable of reaching speeds of more than 300 miles per hour (a lightning-quick 482 km/h).
While Shumake didn’t make the podium in his first race, he will continue to compete in other national drag racing competitions throughout the rest of the year.
In the run-up to the national drag racing event, Shumake teamed up with drag queen Shari Turner to make a Pride Month video for Sheetz, a US convenience store and coffee shop chain.
Shumake adds his name to a growing list of out and proud queer sportspeople competing in various codes across the globe.
The world of professional sports remains one that is not always accepting towards openly queer participants, but a number of gay athletes have cemented themselves among the greats in the South African sports — just think of Caster Semenya (athletics), Sunette Viljoen (javelin, cricket), Janine van Wyk (soccer), Caitlin Rooskrantz (artistic gymnastics), Marizanne Kapp (cricket), Portia Modise (soccer) and Phuti Lekoloane (soccer).
The lack of male gay representation on this list is telling, and Lekoloane highlighted that cultural stigmatisation is still the driving force behind gay professional sportsmen not feeling comfortable to come out.
“There are soccer players who are gay [but are] still in the closet because they are scared of discrimination and homophobia,” Lekoloane told MambaOnline in 2019.
One can only hope that professional sports continue to evolve and make room for the many closeted athletes that are hailed for their talent, but rarely recognised for who they truly are.