Is it just us, or is the American Olympic gymnastics team the ultimate squad??! We’re not just talking about the badass women, who clearly knocked it out of Rio at the most recent games. But of course, the achievements of Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and co. canNOT be stated enough. While Team USA has a long history of the women being a level above the men in gymnastics, there is one guy who deserves some major cred, for his performance on the bars as well as outside the practice arena.
Danell Leyva is the first Cuban-American athlete to be on the Olympic men’s gymnastics team, and he brought home 2 silver medals. Rio was his second Olympic appearance and it will be his last, as he is hanging up the gym pants for a while to pursue acting, among other interests.
He has become a viral sensation for a routine he performed in Rio, where he took off his top halfway through. And although that video has been shared far and wide, we found something even more interesting about our new Olympic bae – he is an unapologetic feminist!
Yep, this is not a drill, people! In an interview with the Huffington Post after his return to Miami, Florida, he just dance around the term, he makes it pretty darn clear that he is “100 percent” feminist, and he has a trail of evidence to prove it. As Bustle reported, when Danell was asked by USA Today what he and the other men felt about being in the “shadow” of the female gymnasts (hmmmm, we wonder if the women would ever get asked how they would feel being in the “shadow” of men if the roles were reversed, or whether the sports world would just assume that is normal…) he didn’t flinch for a moment.
“Not only do they deserve all of the attention they get because they have all of that success, (gymnastics) is one of the only places in the world that they’re given the recognition they deserve, It’s just so powerful to see women like that get praised the way that they do,. That could just be the feminist in me, though,” he said.
Now this is the kind of conversation around feminism we need to start hearing more of from men – showing that women in a position equal to (or greater than, in the case of the female gymnasts) them is not a threat to their masculinity, their worth, or their place in the world.
He is also a fervent LGBTQ ally, and expressed this to gymnastic podcast GymCastic in a 2015 interview. When asked his thoughts on whether the international governing body for gymnastics should move all competitions away from countries that don’t equal rights, Danell spoke about it on a level closer to home. He supported his fellow gymnast Josh Dixon, who happens to be gay, in stating that the US Gymnastics championships should be moved out of Indiana, the state which passed discriminatory laws purported to “protect religious freedom” while giving license to discriminate against gay people and call it a religious thing.
“I’m going to say yes, that is what we should do. That is the type of action we need to take to make an actual change…I’m still a little heated that championships are in Indiana,” he told GymCastic host Jessica O’Beirne.
He is described as a “non-conformist” and we’re beginning to see why. Huffpost’s Carolina Moreno asks him about how he is defying the Latino stereotype.
“It’s so rare to see male Latinos in the public eye use the word “feminist” to describe themselves,” she said.
“A lot of people shy away from that word. They’re not scared, they just don’t want to make anyone else upset. But I don’t care. People hear that word and they’re like “Oh, you want women to be better.” No. You’re wrong. We want people to be equal,” replied Danell.
He believes more Latino men should embrace the term and the mentality.
“It sucks because among Hispanics, the machismo is very there,” he said.
She also asked him if there was one specific moment that led him to embrace feminism, and his answer was amazing.
“It was when I realized it was common sense to be a feminist. I think what helped was the fact that I’ve always been surrounded by very powerful women. My mom was the one who got me and my sister out of Cuba, by herself. My sister was 12 and I was a year and a half. We went to Peru, and we weren’t even supposed to stay in Peru for long. But we ended up staying for 6 months, so my mom obviously had to go out and look for work, so we could survive. And my sister, being 12-years-old, was the one taking care of me,” he recalled.
“I think I realized I was a feminist when I saw the contrary ― when I saw people that didn’t have that mentality, that [saw] other people as less. I was like “what are you talking about? Everybody is the same,” he continued.
Danell is a living embodiment of the He For She campaign spirit – men using their voices and their power to advocate for gender equality among their peers and show other men why it should not be seen as a threat for women to have the same opportunities in life as them.
And if you are interesting in learning more about Danell’s feminism, follow him on Tumblr, where he is regularly sharing memes, quotes, and gifs that explain why he is passionate about equality. And “woke bae” is not an exaggeration. One of his most recent posts (at the time of writing this article) was about model Gigi Hadid being pranked by someone at Milan Fashion week. A man came up from behind and picked her up around the waist. She yelled at him to put her down and to stop touching her, and the media headlines have described her as some sort of crazy woman “lashing out” at the guy.
Many have called out the media for their lack of awareness of a man touching a woman without her consent, as if that’s just no big deal, and Danell chose to share a tweet from Gigi herself who expressed frustration over how she was being portrayed in the media.
They say the “future is female”, and perhaps the future of feminism will include more males if there are guys like Danell Leyva taking a stand for it.