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USWNT stars Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger grateful for chance to inspire others

The couple speak out about their coming out journey, facing bullying and learning to be role models for the LGBT community.

Orlando Pride stars Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger got married Saturday in Miami. (Courtesy of Timeline Video Productions)

“To all the fans — you’re welcome,” Orlando Pride and U.S. women’s national team defender Ali Krieger said with a laugh.

It’s been two weeks since Krieger married teammate Ashlyn Harris in a Miami event warmly heralded as the “Royal Wedding” by their family and fans alike. Already, they’re back to business, trading a honeymoon for two-a-days at the national team’s camp in Tampa.

Life doesn’t feel too different for the couple, Harris said. They first met at a national team camp and have played on the same team for years. At this point, almost a decade into their relationship, they see their relationship as a constant.

But in the last year, plenty has changed around them — a World Cup victory, a surging women’s equality movement, a wedding that made the pages of Vogue.

For the couple and their teammates, there hasn’t been much time to stop and take it all in. The World Cup high wore off two months after the win, Harris said, and she and Krieger are focused on the future — Olympic qualifiers in February and the upcoming NWSL season with the Pride.

But two weeks ago, their wedding served as a pause, a time to celebrate what they’ve become after 10 years of coming out together — authentic, honest and, most important, happy.

“I think for so long we were so worried about all the consequences and it took a lot of energy from us,” Harris said. “I think for so long, I had to make sure I was professional and this and that. I just felt I wasn’t doing myself justice or my relationship justice by hiding. It feels freeing and liberating just to be able to show up and truly be yourself. I feel like I finally can give my staff and my coaches and the players next to me all of me and not just a part of me.”

When Krieger and Harris tied the knot, they shared the moment not just with their family and friends, but with the LGBT community as a whole. The couple released an 18-minute video of the day and plentiful Instagram posts that dominated social media for days afterward.

For Krieger, openly sharing her relationship wasn’t always natural. Looking back, she’s not even sure she could have envisioned her current self — happily married and playing on the same team as her wife — a few years ago.

But even in the smallest ways — the wedding band glistening on her hand, the rainbow strap fastened to her Apple watch — Krieger is learning to embrace the impact of her vulnerability.

Even when they number in the thousands, Krieger reads the Instagram comments and tweets from fans. In the weeks following their wedding, she said that she received a surprising amount of comments and messages from older LGBT fans — people in their 40s and 50s who said that the wedding made them finally feel they could accept themselves.

That ability to impact is shifting the way that Krieger views herself.

“I really have opened myself up more,” Krieger said. “I feel more vulnerable than I used to — in a good way. I’m more of a private person. I like to keep a few things to myself and I like to share that just with Ash and our family at home. I’m surprised at how vulnerable I’ve become, but I think it’s healthy because people can relate more to you that way. I feel like I’m becoming my more true self.”

Coming out hasn’t come without its risks. Despite the widespread support of their identities and relationship, both Harris and Krieger have faced backlash, especially on social media.

For years, Krieger has weathered cyberbullying and homophobic abuse online. She tries to ignore it, but she admits that it affected her, shaking her confidence.

As she enters a new year, she’s hoping to use that experience to create outlets to support LGBT youth who suffer from bullying themselves.

“It’s been continuous in the past five years,” Krieger said. “There’s people online that say some pretty negative things, but I know they’re really going through something, and some of them just might be sick. I feel sorry for them and I hope they can get the help that they need. Hopefully I can help speak up for others and for younger kids who are getting bullied just as bad, if not worse, in person and online. I hope that through me experiencing this, I can help in that way.”

The challenge now for Krieger and Harris is continuing to learn how to navigate their roles as LGBT role models. For anyone who identifies as LGBT, coming out isn’t a one-time occurrence. Each morning, an LGBT person must choose to live out and proud. Every day is an act of coming out.

For LGBT celebrities, this is even more complicated. Each piece of their public lives can have an impact on a vulnerable community. Each time Krieger and Harris chose to share a part of their identity, it provided strength and hope to a community that has craved representation for most of its existence.

Krieger and Harris said they try to be precise and thoughtful about their public presence, knowing their affection has a resounding ripple effect. Their wedding reflected that vision, becoming a celebration of the LGBT community as well as a celebration of their relationship.

Their cake cut open to reveal eight layers of rainbow; their tables were named for LGBT pioneers such as Marsha P. Johnson. Even when it came to selecting Harris’ suit — created by Thom Browne, a gay designer who specializes in gender non-conforming styles — every aspect of the wedding celebrated and uplifted the LGBT community.

For Harris and Krieger, this ability to openly support their community is as important as anything they accomplish on the field.

“You don’t know that you have that much of an impact on someone’s life,” Krieger said. “It makes me kind of emotional because I’m just being myself and I’m trying to just live and figure out this life of ours. I never felt that we were going to be those people that would have this platform, but I’m so grateful that we are those people now. We can show people that we can have an incredible love story as well and that we deserve that and that there are happy endings.”

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