Orlando Cruz, thefirst openly gay boxer, comes out fighting

Orlando Cruz's revelation hailed by campaigners and former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas

A former Olympic boxer and one of the top-ranked fighters in the world has made history by becoming the first openly gay man in the sport's history.

Orlando Cruz, a professional boxer from Puerto Rico with more than two decades in the sport, described himself as "a proud gay man" as he went public with his sexuality for the first time.

"I've been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself," the 31-year-old announced in a press release. "I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man."

Cruz is ranked number four in the world in the featherweight division by the World Boxing Organisation, and was part of the Puerto Rico Olympic boxing team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

His announcement was hailed by gay rights campaigners yesterday, who said the fighter's decision to come out as a gay man could encourage more men in the boxing world, and beyond, to do the same. "It is absolutely fantastic that Orlando has taken the step to become the first openly gay boxer," said Richard Lane, a spokesman for Stonewall. "It is vital that there are positive role models in sport for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This can only be a good step forward for fans of boxing and other sports."

Aris Pina, a boxing historian, said Cruz's revelation would also have a positive impact on the Latino community. "It takes a lot of courage to announce you're a proud openly gay Puerto Rican man, especially within the Latin community where men are very masculine, and within the homophobic world of boxing," he told Fox News.

Welsh Rugby legend Gareth Thomas, who became the first openly gay professional rugby union player in 2009, told The Independent: "The bravery he has shown sets a great example to others. It's great to see someone else doing it. I do believe we are coming to a point where professional sports people need not be afraid anymore."

From the closet: Gay sport stars

Gareth Thomas

The captain of the Welsh rugby team and formerly its most-capped international, Thomas became the first openly gay professional rugby union player when he went public with his sexuality in 2009.

Justin Fashanu

A top-flight footballer between 1978 and 1997, he became the first and only English professional to be openly homosexual. He committed suicide in 1998 after a 17-year-old claimed to US police that Fashanu had sexually assaulted him, a claim he denied in a suicide note.

Martina Navratilova

Considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, she came out in 1981, shortly after becoming a US citizen. Navratilova was in her prime when she went public, and has since been an outspoken activists for gay rights.

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