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Gay Jamaican swimmer says coming out has not affected career

Michael Gunning hopes to compete in 2020 Summer Olympics

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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.

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Paris prepares for the gayest games since Tokyo

Everything LGBTQ about the 2024 Summer Games

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The biggest name in LGBTQ sports at this Olympics is that of the fastest woman in the world: Sha'Carri Richardson. (Screen capture via NBC News)

When this week’s Summer Olympic Games kick off in Paris, it will bewith an abundance of flair, fireworks, and joie de vivre — that’s French for “joy of life” — and more inclusion than ever before.

For the first time, the Olympics have achieved gender parity, with 50% of athletes identifying as men and 50% identifying as women, and at least two athletes identifying as transgender nonbinary. There is one trans man, boxer Hergie Bacyadan of the Philippines. These athletes will compete in 32 sports and 339 events, starting this week, and once again there will also be a Refugee Team featuring 37 athletes from all over the world, vying for medals in 12 sports.

There will also be a huge amount of LGBTQ representation among more than 200 countries and that Refugee Team. The big name athletes include track and field star Sha’Carri Richardson, shot-putter Raven Saunders, basketball superstars Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, new “Pops” Brittney Griner, Alyssa Thomas (who is engaged to her WNBA teammate DeWanna Bonner), BMX Freestyle riders Hannah Roberts and Perris Benegas, the British diver Tom Daley, who is competing in his fifth Olympic Games, and Brazil’s legendary soccer player Marta, who will compete for a sixth time.

But determining exactly how many athletes are out is no easy feat.

Published estimates of total competitors range from 10,500 to 10,700, and the official Olympics site counts 11,232 athletes, including one 18-year-old woman representing the People’s Republic of China who will compete in a sport making its debut at this Olympics, called breaking — better known as breakdancing. She is identified only as “671,” no first or last name, just “671.” Good luck, “Six!”

While we don’t know how “671” identifies, there is a consensus that these games will see the largest contingent of out athletes since the 2020 Olympics were played in Tokyo in 2021, delayed a year because of the pandemic. GLAAD and Athlete Ally counted 222 out athletes competing in Tokyo, as mentioned in their comprehensive guide to these Summer Games, a collaboration with Pride House France.

In 2021, the editors at the LGBTQ sports website Outsports had estimated there were 120 competing in Japan, and updated that number to 186 after learning about other athletes who were LGBTQ, including some who came out after competing. That number, they said, set a new record.

This year, they have once again done the math, and calculated how many queer competitors will participate in this year’s Summer Games: Fewer than in Tokyo, but more than in any other Olympics.

“At least 144 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes will be in Paris for the 2024 Olympics, the second consecutive Summer Games where the number has reached triple digits,” says Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski. “There are also a record number of out male Olympians.”

And yet, Team USA has only one man who is publicly out: distance runner Nico Young, a cross-country and track and field athlete at Northern Arizona University. Young, 21, came out as gay in 2022 in a post on Instagram.

“I am living proof that it is not a choice, it is something I have always known and been aware of, but have kept silent out of fear of rejection,” Young wrote. “I have struggled to accept myself, but I am becoming more proud and happy with who I am. I have realized that the only reason I never liked this part of who I am was because of what society has told me, not because of how I actually feel. This is a quality of myself as well as so many other people that should be accepted and celebrated just the same as a straight person’s identity is.”

USA has the most out athletes

At least 24 countries — including the Refugee Team — are represented by at least one publicly out athlete in 32 sports this year. As before, the United States has the most out athletes of all with 28, about one-fifth of the athletes on the “Team LGBTQ” list compiled by Outsports.

Brazil has 22 out athletes, Australia has 17, Great Britain is fourth with 10 and Germany has nine.

Not surprisingly, out women athletes far outnumber out men on their list by about a 7 to 1 margin. But it’s not women’s basketball that has the most out athletes of any sport, with more than 30 players identifying as LGBTQ. It’s women’s soccer.

Tierna Davidson of Menlo Park, Calif., is the sole American competing in women’s soccer who is publicly queer. She proposed to her partner Alison Jahansouz in March. At Stanford, Davidson and her team won an NCAA title in college football. Then, at age 20, she won the 2019 Women’s World Cup — the youngest player on USWNT — and the Bronze with Team USA in Tokyo. But with the departure of the team’s gay icons, namely Megan Rapinoe, Davidson, 25, told The Athletic she said she feels pressure like never before.

“I think that there’s no illusion that the ratio of queerness on the team has decreased a little bit, at least with players that are out,” she said, noting that as an introvert she is not seeking the high profile of Rapinoe. “And so, I think it’s important to recognize that I am part of that ratio, and that it is important to bring issues to the table that are important to me and to my community, and be able to be that representative for people that look up to queer athletes and see themselves in me on the field.”

Canadian soccer player Quinn, 28, returns to the Olympics this week as the first transgender nonbinary athlete to have won a gold medal, at Tokyo in 2021, as the Blade reported. They came out to their team in an email in 2020, and recently took part in a Q&A about that experience.

“I think I had a better relationship with my teammates after coming out,” they said. “I had a new confidence and ability to be vulnerable with them and it strengthened many relationships in my life. There were some players on my professional team at the time who were ignorant, but having the overwhelming majority of players and staff support me really created an environment where anything less than that wouldn’t be tolerated.”

As of press time, GLAAD and Athlete Ally are still counting how many out athletes will be competing in Paris. But the numbers aren’t as important as visibility, GLAAD President & CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis told the Blade.

“LGBTQ athletes continue to shine at the Olympic Games, including transgender athletes who will help reporters and viewers to see their humanity as well as their achievements,” Ellis said. “For the first time there will be gender parity among Olympic athletes, a significant milestone that comes as transgender and nonbinary people are also included. This guide, created in collaboration with Athlete Ally and Pride House France, is uniquely positioned to help media covering the Games include and report on LGBTQ athletes so their talents and stories are centered to inform and inspire acceptance among audiences around the world.”

Of course, compiling all these lists is a gargantuan task, one that LGBTQ historian Tony Scupham-Bilton of Nottingham, U.K., has been doing for more than a decade with a blog called The Queerstory Files. He told the Blade he contributed to the list Outsports published.

“I had six athletes which they didn’t have on their list when we compared them last week, but there were about 20 athletes on their list which I didn’t have,” Scupham-Bilton said, noting that inclusion is increasing. “Paris has already exceeded previous levels of representation and involvement. That indicates a probable increase in medals. I have also noticed that there has been an increase in the number of Olympians coming out between Olympics.”

One other big change in terms of representation that this historian sees is how the Olympics themselves have embraced the LGBTQ community.

“Even though there have been Pride Houses at most Olympic Games since Vancouver 2010, the majority of which have been supported by the various organizing committees, Paris 2024 is the first to include it on its official website,” Scupham-Bilton told the Blade.

As the Blade reported, Team USA celebrated Santa Cruz, Calif., native Nikki Hiltz qualifying for the Olympics with their record-setting finish in the 1,500-meter race earlier this month with an Instagram post that drew a flood of negative comments from straight cisgender men.

Hiltz, 29, is the other trans nonbinary athlete competing in Paris. Team USA’s post showed them writing “I ❤ the gays” on a camera lens. A lot of the comments showed ignorance of their actual identity, calling them a “cheater” and “a man.”

Hiltz responded with grace, in an Instagram post about how far they’ve come since 2021. That year they finished dead last in the Olympic trials, held shortly after they came out. Earlier this month, Hiltz reflected on their growth.

“I’ve spent the past 3 years rebuilding my confidence and reshaping that narrative. Telling myself every single day that I belong. Showing up to meets, taking up space, and making friends with those little voices in my head that consistently tried to convince me I was too confusing, I was a burden or I wasn’t enough,” they wrote.

This year, in Eugene, Ore., was different.

“I stood on the start line of the Olympic Trials 1500 final and told myself ‘I can do this, the world will make space for you. Remember to enjoy this race and have fun playing the game of racing, this is your moment.’ The gun went off, it got hard, I didn’t crumble, I didn’t fall off the pace, I held on and 3 minutes and 55 seconds later I broke the finish line tape and became an Olympian.”

But by far the biggest name in LGBTQ sports at this Olympics is that of the fastest woman in the world: Sha’Carri Richardson. She missed out on competing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 for testing positive for cannabis, and now is going for gold.

Richardson graced a recent cover of Vogue, and told the magazine how committed she is to this goal: “Everything I do—what I eat, what I drink, if I stay up too late—it’s all reflected on the track,” she said. “Every choice. That’s what the world doesn’t see.” But she also talked about keeping herself fixed firmly in the present. “If all I’m doing is looking ahead, then I can’t be where I need to be. Which is here, now.”

The Blade will be there, in Paris, to bring you all the excitement from the Olympic Games.

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Brittney Griner and wife celebrate birth of their son

Cherelle Griner gave birth to healthy baby boy earlier this month

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Brittney Griner (Screen capture via Instagram)

It’s a boy for Brittney and Cherelle Griner. The Phoenix Mercury center revealed the news in interviews with CBS Sports and NBC News. 

“Every minute I feel like he’s popping into my head, said Griner. “Literally everything revolves around him. And I love it.”

The couple officially welcomed the baby boy on July 8. He weighs 7 pounds, 8 ounces.

“That’s my man. He is amazing,” Griner told CBS Sports. “They said as soon as you see them, everything that you thought mattered just goes out the window. That’s literally what happened.” 

Griner, 33, corrected the CBS News correspondent who said, “You’re about to be a mom!” She told her Cherelle, 33, had already delivered the baby and that she preferred to be called,“Pops.” 

Griner told NBC News correspondent Liz Kreutz they chose to name their newborn son, “Bash.” 

The WNBA star said she is Bash’s biggest fan and is constantly taking photos of him. “My whole phone has turned into him now,” Griner told CBS Sports.

The baby comes as Griner gets set to play in Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game and then head to Paris with Team USA to compete for their 8th straight gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games. 

“It kind of sucks because I have to leave, but at the same time, he will understand,” said Griner. 

Her time in Paris will mark the first time since the basketball star was released from a Russian gulag, where she was held on drug charges for nearly 10 months in 2022.

“BG is locked in and ready to go,” Griner told NBC News on Friday. “I’m happy, I’m in a great place. I’m representing my country, the country that fought for me to come back. I’m gonna represent it well.”

Griner also spoke with NBC News about her hopes the U.S. can win the freedom of imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian maximum security prison on Friday. 

“We have to get him back,” she said. 

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High hurdler Trey Cunningham comes out as gay

Florida State University alum grew up in Ala.

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Trey Cunningham (Photo courtesy of Cunningham's Instagram page)

He didn’t get to punch his ticket to the Olympics this summer but Trey Cunningham, 26, one of the world’s best high hurdlers, is in the news for a far more personal reason: He publicly came out as gay. 

“We say our goals out loud,” Cunningham told the New York Times Monday, explaining a technique he has relied upon in his training as an elite athlete. “If there’s something we want to achieve, we say it. Putting something in words makes it real.”

His sexuality isn’t exactly a secret. Cunningham came out to his parents and friends by phone five years ago at age 20. 

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” he told the Times, recalling that he found himself dripping with sweat as he waited for the ringing to end and for the calls to be connected. 

Cunningham revealed to the newspaper that he got the sense that at least some of his friends were not at all surprised by this news, and had been “waiting for me,” he said. “I was really lucky to have a group of people who did not care.”

He was in college then, starting to “explore the idea” of his sexual attraction. 

“It took me awhile to know it felt right,” he said. 

His high school years in Winfield, Ala., were a time for friends and fun, dreaming of playing pro basketball with the Boston Celtics before discovering he enjoyed “flinging myself at solid objects at high speed,” he said. It was not a place conducive to dating other boys. 

Cunningham recalled his hometown as “rural, quite conservative, quite religious: The sort of place where you did not want to be the gay kid at school,” he told the paper. “So, I had certain expectations of what my life would look like, and it took me a little while to get my head around it, looking different to that.”

So, it was not a surprise that his parents gave him some “pushback” — in his words — when he called them with the news five years ago. 

“They had certain expectations for their little boy, for what his life would be like, and that’s OK,” he told the Times. “I gave them a 5-year grace period. I had to take my time. They could take theirs, too.” 

Cunningham drew a parallel between his own process and theirs. “What was true for me was also true for my parents,” said the world-class sprinter. 

And he is world-class, even if he’ll be watching the Summer Games instead of competing in them. As the Times reported, Cunningham is ranked 11th in the world. In 2022, he won the silver medal in high hurdles at the world championships in Eugene, Ore., and last month he placed ninth in the 110-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic trials. 

“If you do well in the U.S. trials, you know you have a good shot at a medal,” he said.

Following his disappointing finish in what he described as a “stacked field” of competitors, he is coming out as gay in an interview with a journalist now because everyone who he feels needs to know has known for some time, he said. Also, he recognizes that being out is still rare. 

“There are lots of people who are in this weird space,” said Cunningham. “They’re not out. But it is kind of understood.”

What he hopes is that both sports and the wider world will someday get to a place where “people do not have to ‘come out,” he said, where people can “just get on with being them.”

In addition to being an elite athlete, Cunningham has a Master of Science degree from Florida State University, a deal with Adidas and — with his scruffy square jaw and pouty lips — he is a sought-after Ford model.

He said in the interview that he realized coming out comes with practical and potentially financial considerations: Competing in countries where being gay is a crime, like Qatar. Although he doesn’t think hiding his sexuality inhibited his performance or that some great weight is now lifted, he believes being public about it has value.

There are times, Cunningham said, when it pays to say something out loud, to make things real. This is that time. 

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