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a group for the future: an interview with queer run founder cain leathers

posted by
Ian Campbell

cain leathers makes an enormous difference everyday in the Philly running & LGBTQ+ community

Cain Leathers is the founder of Queer Run, a collective of runners supporting the LGBTQ community in Philly.

Ian Campbell is the founder of eseo, an app working to create a thriving community of athletes in Philadelphia.

Cain and Ian sat down to chat about Queer Run, the importance of sharing your story, and how to foster unity between allies and the LGBTQ community.

What made you want to start Queer Run?

I’m a person trying to find myself in this world. I think we all are. My journey has been a bit different than many people’s. I didn't have a great relationship with my parents, and I struggled with my mental health as a teen. All that put me out in the world alone, so I had to do a lot of traveling to find a space for myself.

I found myself through running. It's been the greatest gift. I owe my life to running. To this day I'm still on a journey of self-love. I feel like everyone in this world can love themselves a little bit more. 

With Queer Run, I feel like I’m encouraging others to do that. 

What is Queer Run?

Queer Run was created to foster more unity between the LGBTQ community and its allies in Philadelphia.

The name is significant because the word “queer” has historically been used as a derogatory word. So, by including it in the name of the group, we want to bring it into a kinder light. The more you hear it and say it in a positive context, the less derogatory it becomes. 

Members of the LGBTQ community are not bad words. There should not be any bad words used to recognize us. So the name was designed to empower us. 

We want to be a group where everyone can come together. We're not just a group for LGBTQ people; we’re a group for the future where everyone treats each other equally. And in order to get to that future, we need to be stronger today.

Tell us about the growth of Queer Run. 

I didn’t think it would pick up as quickly as it did. We’re having our tenth group run this Sunday with Hoka and Philadelphia Runner. It's incredible to have so much publicity in such a short period of time.

I’ve just tried to build a community by taking opportunities as they come. So, I guest hosted a group workout for nearly a hundred people for the November Project. I was on the Running Times podcast with Micheal Gagliardi. We got mentioned in a Runner’s World article and featured in the Live Louder podcast. 

I think my run across Pennsylvania for mental health awareness month to raise money for The Trevor Project catapulted the group and our foundation. So I’m so thankful for the support.  

What makes Queer Run so successful? 

Before I started, I joined other groups and tried to find a place for myself. As a gay man, I never really felt like I could find the right fit.

I feel like a lot of running groups were created with a solely athletic environment in mind, with a bit of space for friendship. I wanted to start something that was founded on community. So it’s still athletic, but it's focused on self-love and sharing our stories. 

Being able to share my story, my real struggles, and my battle with suicide as a teen has helped foster that sense of community. On social media, people share the positives, and we tend to hide the negative moments that we all deal with every day. 

Sharing those realities is important. It’s impactful for a person to stand up in front of a group of people and share their story. So when I do that, people tend to hear our message and they are receptive to it. 

It’s inspired others to come forward and share their stories, too. We can have a group of straight, gay, and nonbinary individuals, and we can talk about anything. I’m thankful we have a space where everyone feels welcome and loved.   

What is good allyship? 

An ally is someone who supports and empowers others. Whether that be showing up and becoming a friend, listening, learning, understanding, doing your own research, or educating yourself online. 

One of the reasons I love The Trevor Project is because of the free educational resources on their website. You can learn more about gender identity or mental health, and get access to counseling resources

There are running groups that are focused on the LGBTQ space specifically, but we don't want to be an exclusive space. We want to empower the community while welcoming allies to join us so we can create a united space. 

There's already so much separation in the world. We’re doing what we can to bridge that gap.

What resources do you recommend to allies? 

We are launching a website where we will host educational resources and information for users to learn about the LGBTQ community through videos and articles. 

There’s so much for all of us to learn regardless of the community or country that we come from or what our gender identity is. I recommend supporting and listening to understand, versus simply listening to respond, since there’s so much for all of us to learn, all the time.

Tell us about your 361-mile run for The Trevor Project.

I started the run on a Sunday and finished on a Wednesday. Afterward, I slept for two days straight. But, I still went to my group run on Monday.

I didn't do much and I didn't expect a lot of publicity. The goal was just to improve my self-love and share my story. I had been hiding for so long, so it was a step toward truth for me. It was the 10-year anniversary of the day I was hospitalized as a teen. And what better time than mental health awareness month to acknowledge that truth.

The run itself was impactful, but very hard at the beginning. We wanted to do the entire trip in seven days but ended up pushing it to ten. 

For me, it improved the experience, since I could enjoy the ride a bit longer. I could stop at the top of the peaks and enjoy the moment, experiencing the silence of the farmlands. I was thankful for the adventure and gained a new appreciation for myself. 

There were times I’d start crying because of how emotional it was. I was just so grateful to still be alive. 

Halfway through, I had a revelation and I quit my job. I discovered what I wanted from life is to empower the community. So, I just did it. 

Along the way, there were people who said cruel things but others who said kind things. In life, there are people who will support you and those who won't—you have to keep going even when it hurts. 

Now I've made so many friends and discovered so much about myself. I couldn't be more grateful. 

What’s next for Queer Run?

We’re excited about the launch of our new website. It will be a place to share resources. I have a dream to expand the group, both into underserved parts of Philadelphia and beyond to neighboring cities.

With my personal running, I used to run to compete. Now I focus more on spreading the word and building community. 

I have a 12-hour race on August 6th, and then a week later I’m doing a 100-mile mountain race. Then a 24-hour track race in October with hopes of qualifying for the 24-hour US team. 

I’d love to represent the LGBTQ community on a national scale like Ryan Montgomery. He helped promote a message of equality and I hope to continue that representation. There are only six spots on the US team so it would be an amazing opportunity. 

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You can follow Queer Run on Instagram for updates on group runs and other events. 

At eseo, we’re dedicated to creating a thriving community of athletes in Philadelphia. From hikers to spikers, golfers to goalies—if you can move, you’re an athlete. Download the app to become a part of our team!

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cain leathers makes an enormous difference everyday in the Philly running & LGBTQ+ community