Champion gymnast Luke Strong on his trip to Syria, traveling the world & just how many speedos he owns

Champion gymnast Luke Strong on his trip to Syria, traveling the world & just how many speedos he owns

You are currently viewing Champion gymnast Luke Strong on his trip to Syria, traveling the world & just how many speedos he owns
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When a lingering ankle injury prevented Luke Strong from training for the Tokyo Olympics, the champion gymnast was at a loss. He had been competing in trampoline gymnastics since he was a teenager, participating in competitions around the world.

Sidelined for good, Strong needed to come up with a new goal. “Why not travel the world?,” he figured.

“When I got injured in 2019 and wasn’t able to compete anymore, I kind of didn’t really know what to do with my life,” he said. “So I set myself a goal to visit 100 countries by the time I was 30. I’ve got until December until I turn 31 to achieve that, so I’ve been going at it full force!”

Strong is on pace to reach his goal in early December, right around his 31st birthday. He’s slated to commemorate the milestone in Namibia, the driest country in sub-Sahara Africa.

In order to reach his 100-country threshold, Strong was forced to travel outside of his comfort zone. The British native, who identifies as bi, is in the midst of a multi-week journey across Central Asia.

He just wrapped up a stint in the Middle East, spending time in Syria and Lebanon. There are 64 countries in the world that criminalize homosexuality, and Strong has been to several of them.

A regular poster on social media, Strong says he receives pushback for his itinerary.

“When people first brought it to my attention, I took a step back. I respect what they’re saying, and I respect their choice to not go to these countries. There was a period of time when I thought, ‘Should I not?,’” he said.

Over the last four years, Strong has vacationed in plenty of tropical oases and urban metropolises. But it’s his sojourns to the forbidden places that he often finds the most rewarding.

Queerty recently caught up to Strong while he was enjoying a night of rest in Almaty, the capital city of Kazakhstan, to talk about his wild adventures… and just how many speedos he owns. Here’s what he had to say…

QUEERTY: You were just in Syria and Lebanon. What’s one thing about traveling in the Middle East that people don’t know about, or stereotype you’d like to prove wrong?

LUKE STRONG: The first stereotype is that it’s unsafe. I know there are regions in the Middle East that are unsafe, so I don’t want to say everything is a lie. But just from my own experience traveling in Syria, I didn’t ever feel unsafe, and the locals were so friendly and so accommodating. They just wanted to chat and get the message out there that Syria isn’t what the Western media says. The people are just so nice.

How is Syria different?

It’s the people. Going to Syria; yes, it was affected by war massively. There is still a lot of poverty in the country and a lot of the buildings are destroyed. People are living out of bombed houses, which is just awful. But still, you see people smiling. They’re going about their day, going to work, going to bars. It was just nice to see people who have been through the absolute worst that you could go through be so happy and so accommodating. They would ask you to come to dinner at their house. They want to show you everything about their country.

Why travel to countries where homosexuality is criminalized?

It’s a difficult one, because when people first brought it to my attention, I took a step back. I respect what they’re saying, and I respect their choice to not go to these countries. There was a period of time when I thought, “Should I not?” 

But when I sat down and thought about it, that’s exactly what a lot of these countries want. They want gay people to be gone, they don’t want us to exist. So I felt like me going to these countries, we’ve suffered enough in history. I don’t want to be like “I’m just going to stay here in these countries because people don’t like who I am.”

I also think it’s important to go, because in these countries, it’s criminalized to be gay, but gay people still exist. You never know. It’s not like me going to countries is going to save people’s lives or make it safe for them to come out, but at least they’ll see there is a life for gay people out there. I’ve never been to a country and not met a gay person. Just in Syria alone, it’s amazing how many people are quite obviously gay, and expressing themselves in that way.

What’s your personal experience been as an LGBTQ+ person?

It’s been positive. Again, I know there are so many people in the world in the community who are treated horrifically. But my experience has been positive. I guess I don’t walk around saying “I’m gay, I’m gay,” or pushing it in people’s faces, especially in countries where I know the people aren’t as tolerant. But I’ve never had any issues, and never hidden who I am.

In the Middle East, that’s what’s so crazy. They’ve got all of these rules and laws about the LGBTQ+ community. But the men are so affectionate with each other, which even shocked me.

What’s the most surprising gay scene you’ve discovered in your travels?

One of them was Cape Town in South Africa. I don’t know if it’s because I was naive and didn’t really research it, but when I decided to go there, a lot of people were scared about the safety in that country, so I just assumed as a gay person it would be dangerous and scary. But I had some good times in the clubs! And it’s not really a gay experience, but in Syria, I definitely didn’t expect to have another man suck my nipple.

I feel like you have to tell that story…

We went to the Hammam, it’s a Turkish bath kind of thing. It’s a bit of a social club for men. You get into a towel, and men scrub each other clean and give each other massages. In any other country, you wouldn’t believe it wasn’t gay; but apparently, they were doing it. What I found in Syria is, people are very fascinated with tattoos. Because I have so many, people were just scrubbing me down in the sauna, and I had a Syrian man sucking my nipple! I walked in there expecting it to be serious and calm. But there were a lot of water fights, with men not wearing very many clothes. There were also a lot of massages going on. So I was like, “Whatever!”

We’re also fascinated by your tattoos! Can you tell us their backstories?

Weirdly enough, I just started. I got my first tattoo to cover a skin graf I got from breaking my leg on a trampoline, so I just got one and then slowly kept at it. Now I’m just covered in a lot of animals in a lot of places that represent countries that I’ve been to. I’ve got tattoos of my dogs, so those are my favorites. I have four dogs, one cat and five turtles!

How do you stay in shape while doing all of this traveling?

I don’t really feel it! I try and work out regularly. It doesn’t always happen, because on this trip especially, we’ll be in a car for seven hours and then get to a camp in the middle of the mountains where there’s no gym or facilities. But I try to do a little bit of running and conditioning.

Last question: you’re always wearing a speedo! How many do you own?

[Laughs] Good question! I think I have, like, 15 pairs? But it’s always growing!

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