In September of 2016, VICE Sports released a short documentary, Brian Anderson on Being a Gay Professional Skateboarder, chronicling the coming out story of pro skateboarder Brian Anderson. The documentary made waves not only in the LGBTQ community, but in the pro skating world, too. At the time (and perhaps even still), Anderson was the most prominent out pro skateboarder. He was a member of the Nike Skateboarding program, had won world championships and was named Skater of the Year by Thrasher magazine in 1999. He was one of the most recognized pros in the industry — making his coming out all the more important for LGBTQ visibility, especially in the professional sports arena.
When talking to Rolling Stone about his experience, Anderson discussed the apprehension he had around coming out, especially due to the rather homophobic environments he often found himself in.
“It was the industry that scared me," he said. "Nowadays there are television shows about gays and transgender people. That didn't exist 20 years ago. The internet was just starting to become popular then. A lot of people were more close-minded and uninformed. I was pretty unhappy inside, but skateboarding always made me happy.”
This hesitancy was well warranted. In 1998, one year prior to Anderson winning Thrasher’s coveted title, fellow pro skater Tom Von Werne’s career came to an abrupt halt after his sponsor refused to run an interview where Von Werne discussed his sexuality and revealed that he was gay.
In this environment, it makes sense that Anderson’s apprehension didn’t subside, even as the documentary neared completion. On the eve of the film’s release, Anderson told VICE, "I know it's not going to be perfect and I could get get a bottle thrown at my head at a skatepark, but I'm ready for that too.”
But despite his fears and the industry’s less-than-positive track record, the response to Anderson’s coming out was overwhelmingly positive — both from within the industry and without. Anderson discussed the reaction with Vogue earlier this year:
“I’ve been with Nike for over 10 years; they were totally elated and excited, and I don’t think for their personal gain. They said, ‘We have your back 100 percent.’ [...] They were all supportive. I already get a couple things on Instagram like, ‘This is lame,’ and then all my fans start World War III. I don’t do anything, but if you come at me online, all these people are going to break you off.”
Out of the cave
A year after making his sexuality public, Anderson is making waves yet again. But this time it’s in the publishing world.
Starting with a cryptic Instagram message over the summer, Anderson teased something dubbed Cave Homo. The project, a limited-run zine, is equal parts photojournalism, skater mag, sketch art and queer activism. Collaborating with designer Luke Williams, it acts as a sort of photo essay of Anderson’s coming out experience and his place in the Trump-era world.
"Cave Homo was just something Brian had written out on a notebook," Williams told VICE Creators. "He kind of is one — this big hulking guy emerging from the closet as this new person. We had [at] least 1500 photos and hundreds of Polaroids and four or five overflowing sketchbooks. There's no text intentionally, just a bit of an explanation of what this is in the back. It's a celebration of Brian's freedom."
While Anderson isn’t trying to start a media empire, he is trying to encourage conversation, and push people to think differently. “It’s not a showy thing, because I really am a darn humble guy; I get that from my father. I thought it might inspire others to stay motivated and make art. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world and nobody can take our art away from us. [...] It creates a different level of understanding and respect for people’s different styles and unique qualities.”
Anderson has come a long way: From closeted skateboarding icon to out and proud activist, there’s no telling where he’ll go next. Proceeds of the zine are being donated to The Trevor Project (Anderson’s sister committed suicide when he was in fourth grade), and he’s working on a book. But one thing is for sure — Anderson’s honesty and in-your-face sincerity is surely changing and opening minds, especially in a world dominated by heteronormativity and antiquated definitions of gender, sex and sexuality. Oh, and he hasn’t given up skating.
"I'm always focused on skating and by no means do I want to leave it," Anderson told Anthony Pappalardo of VICE Creators. "I wanna stay until i'm 50 or 53… even if my legs start going."