Connect with us

Sports

Gay Jamaican swimmer says coming out has not affected career

Michael Gunning hopes to compete in 2020 Summer Olympics

Published

on

Michael Gunning, Washington Blade, gay news
Michael Gunning came out on ‘The Bi Life,’ a British dating show. (Photo courtesy Gunning)

A gay swimmer of Jamaican descent says concerns that his decision to come out would adversely impact his career have not come to pass.

“Everyone has a different story, but for me personally I was worried that ‘coming out’ would take away from my sporting achievements/performances that I’ve worked and decided my whole life to,” Michael Gunning told the Blade on Aug. 8 in an email.

“Most sports are quite masculine dominated and I think it’s a worry for many athletes that it will take away the fear element from their performance — their opponents might see it as a weakness,” he added. “But for me, when I stand up to race I have to be happy — I normally wave to the crowd and listen to upbeat music, so it hasn’t really affected my ‘role’ as an athlete.”

Gunning, 25, lives in London.

He began to swim when he was 4 after his parents made him and his brother take swimming lessons. Gunning said he “hated it at first, but once I started getting confident in the water I was always getting in trouble for diving under the water and not listening to my teachers.” 

He joined a swimming club when he was 7.

“I’ve stayed in a competitive swimming club swimming ever since,” said Gunning.

Gunning, whose father was born in Jamaica, spoke with the Blade after he competed in the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. Gunning said he hopes to represent Jamaica in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

“The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is the ultimate goal for just now,” said Gunning. “It’s always an honor to represent my county at any competition but the Olympics is so special and it’s something I’ve been working towards all my life so it would be the icing on the cake of my professional career.”

Gunning in 2018 decided to participate in “The Bi Life,” a British dating show that takes place in Barcelona.

“For the past 20 years swimming has taken up the majority of my life as I never dated or been in a relationship before as I never really found the time,” he said. “Despite walking around poolside with fit half naked people, I just learnt to switch off the attraction to anyone and it wasn’t until last year that I felt it was time to put myself out there and find myself a little more and I decided to do the show. I liked the concept of living with like-minded people in a villa for a few weeks — without the competition element — and find out what I was missing out on. 

“I’ve met so many people who struggle to come to terms with their sexuality so a part of me wanted to take part in the show to inspire as many people as I possibly could to show them that it’s ok to be new and inexperienced to dating and allow them share the journey with me,” added Gunning.

Gunning told the Blade he was a “real person going into the villa and just acted on real feeling.” He described his first date as “so nice.”

“After I went on a few more dates and a rollercoaster of emotions … I knew automatically that my feelings towards men overpowered the feelings towards women and it was so nice to be able to share those feelings with my villa mates as they were so supportive and were part of the journey with me,” said Gunning. “I had so many wonderful comments towards my coming out scene and it was so comforting to know that many people had been through the same thing too.” 

Gunning told the Blade that some people thought “I already knew I was gay.”

“But I felt like I owed it to myself to explore and find out for myself in my own way and it just happened that for me it was on TV,” he added. “The girls I dated on the show were so understanding and it’s wonderful that we live in a society where people are so loving and supporting others finding them self, and I’m still really good friends with them now.” 

Gunning met Tom Daley, a British Olympic diver who is married to director Dustin Lance Black, at the London Aquatics Performance Center in 2014. Gunning described Daley as a “great role model” who has “always been a dear friend of mine.”

“I’m also constantly inspired by the current people out in the LGBTQ world making a difference as everyone’s story is so unique and personal to them and it’s great they feel they should share it,” said Gunning.

Jamaica is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Violence and discrimination against Jamaicans based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity also continues to make headlines, even though the island’s LGBTI rights movement has become more visible in recent years.

“There is a harsh reality out in many Caribbean countries that any same-sex affection and/or activity is illegal and publishable of up to 10 years imprisonment,” acknowledged Gunning. “It breaks my heart that I would have to keep such affection to myself should I ever go and visit Jamaica.”

Gunning nevertheless told he Blade he regularly receives messages from LGBTI Jamaicans who share their stories with him.

“I do my best to offer them support and guidance,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to live out there with those legislations put in place, but they come to me because they don’t have anyone else and I try so hard to tell them everything is going to be ok. I hope within time and with the help of more black LGBT representatives, different Caribbean countries will be more willing to accept the developments of same sex couples.”

Amini Fonua, an openly gay Olympic swimmer from Tonga, applauded Gunning for his decision to come out.

“I think him coming out in a country as homophobic is super brave,” Fonua told the Blade.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sports

Out Olympian Kenworthy & Paralympian Dunkin on Tokyo & LGBTQ Sports

“The fact that LGBTQ youth drop out of sports at twice the rate of their heterosexual & gender counterparts, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Published

on

Screenshot via Los Angeles Blade

TOKYO – Gus Kenworthy is in Tokyo for the Summer Games, but not to compete. The  Olympic Gold Medalist recently joined Paralympian Gold Medalist Abby Dunkin in a Zoom conversation with Athlete Ally founder and executive director Hudson Taylor and the head of LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion for Procter & Gamble, Brent Miller. 

“I felt like I knew that if I came out, there must be someone else,” Kenworthy said. “I was like, there’s someone else in skiing or an action sports or another kid who is going to resonate with my story. And if I can even help one person, then it will be worth it.”

This group of athletes and allies tackled the difficult issues of coming out in sports, fears of rejection, suicide attempts and competing authentically as well as the controversy over transgender inclusion in sports, both at the Olympics and in high schools and colleges across the U.S. 

“Only 24% of LGBTQ youth participate in sports,” noted Taylor. “The fact that LGBTQ youth drop out of sports at twice the rate of their heterosexual and gender counterparts, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Dunkin credited Paralympian gold medalist Stephanie Wheeler as an inspiration both on the court and in everyday life as an out lesbian. 

“Stephanie really creates such a great environment for me and other athletes and also our staff, too, that were out at the time,” said Dunkin. “And that really impacted me to come out and be myself.“ Wheeler is also head coach of the Univ. of Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team. 

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, there are more than 142 out LGBTQ athletes competing in Tokyo, a record for any Olympic Games. And with trans nonbinary soccer player Quinn on their way to a potential gold medal, making history with out trans woman Laurel Hubbard and out trans BMX competitor Chelsea Wolfe in Tokyo, Miller says their first steps are inspiring to people all around the world, no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation is. 

“It’s about bringing people together, supporting people, creating mutual understanding, and really celebrating all of humanity,” Miller said. “And now for us, bringing those LGBTQ+ stories forward is critically important because we see the value of what sport can bring.”

Watch their conversation with sports editor Dawn Ennis by clicking here.

Equal Representation in Sports: Why LGBTQ+ Visibility Matters

Continue Reading

Sports

IOC: ‘Trans Women Are Women’ Laurel Hubbard set to make sports history

Laurel Hubbard is set to make sports history on Monday and the International Olympic Committee clearly has her back

Published

on

Screenshot via CBS Sports

TOKYO – The director of medicine and science for the International Olympic Committee praised weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s “courage and tenacity” as she prepares for her upcoming competition as the world’s first out transgender woman Olympian. 

In speaking to reporters in Tokyo Thursday, Dr. Richard Budgett directly addressed those who have attacked and mocked the 43-year-old New Zealander and claimed she shouldn’t be competing with cisgender women, saying  “everyone agrees that trans women are women.”

“To put it in a nutshell,” he said, “the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015. There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation. So Laurel Hubbard is a woman, is competing under the rules of her federation and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games.”

Hubbard herself has not made any public comments except for a statement following her qualifying for the Summer Games, saying she was “humbled” by the support which had helped her “through the darkness” following a near career-ending injury in Australia in 2018.

Reports around the world have claimed Hubbard is the first trans Olympic athlete, which is actually not the case. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinn, a trans nonbinary soccer midfielder for Team Canada, last Wednesday became the first out trans athlete ever to complete in the Olympic Games. They posted about it on Instagram, saying, “I feel proud seeing ‘Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation. I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.”

The IOC is expected to review and likely revise its policies on transgender participation following Tokyo. Trans athlete and researcher Joanna Harper, who has advised the organization and other sports policy groups, told the Los Angeles Blade her recommendation will be for the IOC to continue to regulate trans athletes sport-by-sport. “There shouldn’t be a one-size fits all policy,” said Harper. 

She also noted how the mainstream cisgender media is consumed with coverage of Hubbard and missing out on the bigger picture, and what it will mean for the next generation watching on TV and online. 
“The lack of attention paid to Quinn and to Chelsea Wolfe has been interesting,” said Harper.

“A few news outlets have commented on their presence in Tokyo and in Quinn’s case the comments have been mostly favorable. On the other hand, the storm of mostly negative press heaped on Laurel Hubbard has been disappointing, although predictable. I hope that the negative press that Laurel has gotten won’t dissuade young trans athletes from following their dreams. I think that the next trans woman to compete in the games will get less negative press, and eventually (although probably not in my life) there will come a time when trans women in sport generate little or no controversy.”

Hubbard issued a statement Friday via the New Zealand Olympic Committee in which she said: “The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals and our values. I commend the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.”

According to a French news outlet, NZOC spokesperson Ashley Abbott told reporters the committee had seen a “particularly high level of interest” in Hubbard’s Olympic debut, and much of it has been negative.

“Certainly we have seen a groundswell of comment about it and a lot of it is inappropriate,” Abbott said. “Our view is that we’ve got a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and it’s our role to support all eligible athletes on our team. In terms of social media, we won’t be engaging in any kind of negative debate.”

Abbott reminded the media that the NZOC’s job was to support its athletes, including Hubbard. “We all need to remember that there’s a person behind all these technical questions,” she said. “As an organization we would look to shield our athlete, or any athlete, from anything negative in the social media space. We don’t condone cyberbullying in any way.”

Continue Reading

Sports

Non-binary Olympian leaves games without a medal but still a winner

For the first time in my entire life, I’m proud of the person I’ve worked to become. I chose my happiness over medaling

Published

on

Alana Smith via Instagram

TOKYO – In a series of firsts for the Summer Olympic Games, Alana Smith left the Tokyo games with a sense of accomplishment and a couple of firsts. The 20-year-old non-binary skateboarder competing in the debut of their sport noted on their Instagram account, “My goal coming into this was to be happy and be a visual representation for humans like me.”

Smith wrote: ‘What a wild f***ing ride…My goal coming into this was to be happy and be a visual representation for humans like me. For the first time in my entire life, Im proud of the person I’ve worked to become. I chose my happiness over medaling. Out of everything I’ve done, I wanted to walk out of this knowing I UNAPOLOGETICALLY was myself and was genuinely smiling.

The feeling in my heart says I did that. Last night I had a moment on the balcony, I’m not religious or have anyone/anything I talk to. Last night I thanked whoever it was out there that gave me the chance to not leave this world the night I laid in the middle of the road. I feel happy to be alive and feel like I’m meant to be here for possibly the first time in a extremely long time. On or off day, I walked out of this happy and alive… Thats all I have ever asked for.

Thank you to all the incredible humans that have supported me through so many waves of life. I can’t wait to skate for the love of it again, not only for a contest. Which is wild considering a contest helped me find my love for it again. 💛🤍💜🖤”

Smith’s Olympic debut was slightly marred by their being misgendered during news coverage of their events by BBC commentators misgendering Smith discussing their performance, which led to protests from LGBTQ+ groups and allies including British LGBTQ+ advocacy group Stonewall UK.

 

During the competition, Smith proudly held up their skateboard, which featured their pronouns they/them written across the top. The misgendering was addressed by NBC Sports which issued an apology Tuesday for streaming coverage that misgendered Smith.

“NBC Sports is committed to—and understands the importance of—using correct pronouns for everyone across our platforms,” the network said. “While our commentators used the correct pronouns in our coverage, we streamed an international feed that was not produced by NBCUniversal which misgendered Olympian Alana Smith. We regret this error and apologize to Alana and our viewers.”

NBC also reported that this is the first Olympics in history that has featured skateboarding, with 16 athletes traveling to Tokyo to represent the United States. Smith qualified for the third Olympic spot in the women’s street category after competing at the World Skate World Championships in 2019, according to Dew Tour, which hosts international skateboarding competitions.

According to Outsports, the online LGBTQ+ Sports magazine and NBC Sports, Smith is one of more than 160 openly LGBTQ athletes competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics and one of at least three openly nonbinary or Trans athletes.

Quinn, a midfielder for the Canadian women’s soccer team who goes by only their first name, is the first openly Trans athlete and nonbinary athlete to compete in the games. Laurel Hubbard, a Trans woman from New Zealand will compete in the super heavyweight 87 kilogram-plus (192 pound-plus) weightlifting category on August 2.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular