Quinton Peron Talks LGBTQ Acceptance in Sports and Leading the Cheer in Pride

Written by | Entertainment, The Lens

Picture it – Atlanta 2019, Super Bowl LIII, the Los Angeles Rams are about to take on the New England Patriots. The stakes are high – the last time the Rams were in the Super Bowl was 17 seasons prior, playing the exact same team, to whom they lost. There is a palpable energy in the air, the media is waiting with bated breath, the stadium is pounding with cheers, everyone is waiting to see … the first male cheerleaders in Super Bowl history to take the field. Throwing everything at that historical moment, the first male cheerleaders were also black and gay. Quinton Peron and his cheer mate, Napoleon Jinnies, were ready to make their mark in history. Years of dance experience could not prepare Quinton for this moment, or the media frenzy that had taken place right before.

Super Bowl day was tough. However, Super Bowl week was even tougher. The organization sent about 10 of us cheerleaders, if I can remember correctly, out to Atlanta the week before the game to handle many of the promos. Promos from countless meet and greets and picture signings, to filming episodes of Double Dare, Good Morning America, and the Today Show. The week leading up to the game was full of late nights and early morning call times. They kept us busy, but I would have it no other way. Game day itself was UNBELIEVABLE! We started our very early morning with a field practice of our routines we would perform during the game. Walking on that field for the first time while the stadium was relatively empty had me very emotional. I was picturing what it would be like when the stands are full and again, I was holding back tears. Performing at the Super Bowl was something that I thought I would never get to do and being able to share that experience with my teammates was a dream come true. Yes, we (the Rams) lost the game, but not once did I feel like I lost. Just being there is an honor and for that, I was and still am so grateful. 

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The Rams may not have won that Super Bowl, but diversity did. Quinton’s journey had come full circle from a chance attendance at a Lakers basketball game to a rigorous audition. The Rams had not put out a casting call looking for their first male cheerleaders, but they got them.

Three years ago, I was at a Lakers game with my best friends, and I caught a glimpse of the Laker Girls performing mid-court. I recognized a few of them on the court and asked myself, “Why can’t I do that?” I danced with a few of these girls in high school and college, and in fact, I had taught a few of them at various workshops and masterclasses. I decided to call a friend who had been a Rams cheerleader the year prior to ask about auditions. She had told me the audition for the upcoming season was that coming Sunday, so I decided to just show up. The audition process my first year came as a shock to me. It started out with one round of “across the floor,” which consists of kicks, leaps, and turns. Then comes the big cut! Followed by a choreography round and then another cut to decide on finalists. Once you find out if you made finals, the two-week rehearsal process begins which also includes an interview with the director of the program and the VP of Marketing. After those two long weeks, there is a “finals showcase” where the participants perform all the routines learned during process in front of a panel of judges. From there, the team is selected!

It wouldn’t just be another gig to add to his resume. It would earn him a place in NFL, black, and LGBTQ history. The idea hadn’t hit him yet. How would it be received? Sports, especially football, has been infamously a man’s sport. No one has ever come out publicly gay or bisexual while playing for the NFL. Six retired players have come out, and Michael Sam was the first publicly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, but was released by his contract with the St. Louis Rams prior to the start of the season. There is a hypermasculinity promoted by the newscasters, the crowds, and in the locker rooms. Could there be a place for a gay man on the field? His first day on the field for the season would be proof.

I was incredibly nervous. STRESSED. The first game of the season is a huge deal. It is the first time the world is seeing the new squad, the uniforms, how we look. As well as this was the first time two men would be taking the field alongside the ladies. But with that stress, also came a lot of pride. I was holding back tears the entire game. “I made it,” is what I kept telling myself during the duration of the game. Running through that tunnel for the first time to the cheers of over 70,000 people was WILD. The energy was electric, and it is a memory that I will never forget.

Thankfully (and hopefully a sign of a new era for representation for the LGBTQ community), the response was positive. His social media blew up with messages of encouragement from the community and beyond. The slight resistance would come from males already in the industry.

I, personally, have not experienced any homophobia in the NFL. The league has been very supportive of us. However, I would say I have faced some adversity. I did not audition to be one of the firsts, so when the titles ‘First male cheerleader in the NFL’ and the ‘First male cheerleader to perform at the Super Bowl’ came about, there were a couple of gentlemen that cheer or have cheered in the NFL who were not happy. They felt that their work had gone unnoticed and tried to create a spectacle. There have been male cheerleaders in the NFL for YEARS. Teams like the Ravens and the Titans have what we call ‘stuntmen,’ male cheerleaders who tumble and toss the girls in the air. I am not a stuntman, nor do I try to be. I was one of the first two males to be fully integrated with the girls, meaning that we do the same choreography, every dance step, every battement, every pirouette, every jete, and every high v! That is what makes me different.

The world of sports was not new for Quinton.

Sports have always been a big part of not just my life, but my entire family’s life. We have a house full of athletes from basketball to baseball, to softball and dance. I never had a specific team that I would root for, I just loved watching the games. Super Bowl parties at my house were always a thing regardless of which teams were playing.

Though the Los Angeles Rams would make Quinton a national focus, his prior dance career credits span a wide variety of media and attention and include The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Universal Studios Japan, Carrie Underwood, T-Pain, Pepsi, Nike, To Tell the Truth, RuPaul, Good Morning America, and ESPN – the list goes on and on. At dance competitions, he has received numerous choreographic, artistic, and ‘Overall High Score’ awards at both the regional and national levels.

His interest in dance started when he joined his school’s show choir in 8th grade. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was on the varsity dance team, started a dance club, and started studying at a professional dance studio. Quinton would clean the dance studio to pay for his way. You would think that a high school student so involved in dance would also incur some bullying.

The only bullying that I have ever received was in elementary school, but that all stopped when I had a growth spurt. In high school, everyone minded their own business. I want to give a huge shoutout to Los Osos High School and the numerous teachers there that created such a loving and accepting culture on campus.

Senior year in high school was not only a formative year for his dance career, but also for who he was as a person.

I did not come into my sexuality until my senior year of high school. I went on my first date with a classmate, and it was TRAGIC. We can chat about that another time. [Laughs] Coming out was relatively easy for me. I have a really strong support team within my family and friends. The way I came out to my friends was kind of funny and nonchalant, to be honest. I remember going to the mall on a Friday night (our definition of fun back then), and a cute guy walked past me, and, at that moment, I told my friends, “That guy was FINE!” They all looked at me with a huge smile and kept the conversation going casually and at that moment, I knew that they knew and were accepting of it.

A large part of Quinton’s career includes teaching youth. Some of his best Instagram moments are snippets from his classes that showcase not only Quinton’s signature choreography but also the skills of students. As “Mr. Q,” he teaches and prepares a dancer for the real world of being a professional. He does not teach down to a student’s age and, coupled with a lot of love, will push his students to challenge themselves. What is the biggest challenge facing our youth?

Self-image is a huge struggle that I am seeing a lot of youth deal with today. With everything being so visual nowadays, a lot of kids are having a hard time finding their inner confidence.

While Quinton was advancing representation for minority communities in sports and media, the nation was experiencing turmoil socially, an exact opposite of what was happening in his career.

This past year has been exhausting, and at times, heartbreaking. I learned a lot about myself, my circle, my community, and the world this past year and I grew to love myself and my community even more. We are so resilient and the way we all came together for the BLM movement was nothing short of inspiring. We all want love. We all want to be accepted. We all want a community. Once we realize that, we all have more in common than differences, I really do believe that communities can find love within each other.

For some, social media during this past tumultuous year has been a weapon. Quinton has used social media as a tool.

Social media has played a huge part in my success not only as a cheerleader but as a dancer and choreographer as well. It allows me to reach a broader audience of people with whom I normally would not come in contact with. I have been blessed to be able to teach all over the world due to social media and having that presence and knowing eyes are always on you, makes me push a little more to inspire the next generation.

If you have the opportunity to catch Quinton at a game or on-stage, know that his preshow ritual will always be the same.

Regardless of the showtime, I always stop at Starbucks and get a cold brew and oatmeal. After I enter the venue, I always spray my cologne in the dressing room, put in my AirPods, and let Amy Winehouse calm me down. 

Of course, there was that time that it wasn’t oatmeal.

Five years ago, I was competing at Worlds in Orlando, Florida. The night before the big day, my teammates and I went to Black Angus and it all went downhill from there. Apparently, the grilled chicken that I ordered was raw and went straight through me. I was horribly sick the next morning. So sick that when I went on stage to perform, I had an accident in my pants on stage. (And if you were wondering I STILL KILLED MY PERFORMANCE!)

His message to our community this Pride season is clear.

Be proud of yourself. Pride to me means self-love and self-acceptance. Pride, to me, means I can walk around in a space and be truly and unapologetically myself. As a dance teacher, I preach self-love to my students, EVERY DAY. Nobody is going to love you better than the way you love yourself.

You can follow Quinton on IG: @ItsAQuintonThing

 

Last modified: June 2, 2021