ABERDEEN, S.D. - A growing number of gay athletes are changing the perception of inclusion in the sports world. A national online publication called Out Sports is one place where LGBTQ individuals share their personal stories. One of those came from a wrestler at Northern State University in Aberdeen. 20-year-old Justice Horn talked about a big decision he made last year.
Weighing in at 197 lbs, say hello to Justice Horn. This year, you'll see the Northern State University junior step up to the mat and try to get a pin.
"It' a 24 hour sport. It goes with your nutrition, your training, your sleep," Horn said.
Horn's senior year of high school in Missouri was a big wake-up call. A concussion took him out of football. Good on his feet, he quickly got into this sport.
"I just wrestled my senior year and focused on trying to wrestle post high school," Horn said.
That hard work paid off for the NCAA wrestler.
"He's an awesome kid. He works really hard. He is a really smart kid. He helps some of the other guys with their homework," Kaden Campbell, teammate, said.
Off the mat, Horn was grappling with a big decision. Last fall, he wanted to be honest with his coach.
"He's like, I got something to tell you," Rocky Burkett, head coach, said.
That something is a declaration he eventually made to his entire team.
"I'm gay, yeah," Horn said.
"I just remember after practice, we all -- almost everyone -- went up to him, told him it was fine and we weren't going to look at him any differently," Campbell said.
"Just telling me took a lot of courage. I know it was a big deal to him," Burkett said.
"What surprised me was it wasn't that big of a deal. It was just another day," Horn said.
If everything went so well, why did Horn feel the need to share his story with Out Sports and KELOLAND News? Horn says there's still a lot of work to do when it comes to acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Other athletes are doing the same. Just last year, KELOLAND News showed you a another local athlete who came out and found acceptance from his coach and team.
"I just thought there should be more representation in the NCAA and especially a sport like wrestling," Horn said.
That's not all Horn hopes to do. Just a few weeks ago, a nine-year-old Denver boy killed himself. His mom says other kids were bullying him for being gay. Horn hopes his coming out story saves kids from being bullied like he was, growing up.
"I was getting bullied for not only...uh...having attributes that were very...where I got very homophobic feedback, but also on my race and being African American. So, being called the n-word a lot," Horn said.
A lot has changed. In addition to athletics, Horn is proudly involved on campus and with student government. Burkett says it's nice to see Horn find acceptance here, and it shouldn't be any other way.
"He is who he is, and the guy is accepted for that. They value him as a teammate. Whatever he is, being a gay athlete, they're fine with that," Burkett said.
With his college wrestling career ahead of him, there's another reason why this college student makes the podium. Justice Horn is going to the mat for others who are pinned down by the weight of feeling different.
"I am proud to say it and just know that I can speak on behalf of others who don't have the platform I have. That it should just be normalized," Horn said.