International competitive swimmer Michael Gunning has participated in two World Championships and currently holds the Jamaica national record for the 200 meter butterfly, 200 meter freestyle and 400 meter freestyle. Since coming out as gay in 2018, Michael has worked to build greater inclusion in sport as a whole, and now joins Athlete Ally as a Pro Ambassador.
Athlete Ally: How did you get into swimming, and what do you love about it?
Michael: My parents put me into swimming lessons when I was four, as they wanted my brother and I to learn water safety skills from an early age. Swimming is one of those sports where you have to fully commit mentally and physically to what you’re doing — every arm stroke, how you’re moving through the water, etc. I love how swimming can take your mind and body away from everything else in the world and challenges you in ways you never knew were possible.
What was your experience like coming out as a professional athlete with such a global platform?
I had an incredible coming out experience, as everyone reacted better than I could have ever imagined! Swimming this past year has taken me all over the world and for every international competition, I’ve received nothing but love and support for my story. I didn’t expect my life to resonate with so many people, so I suppose I was shocked to get so much attention over just being myself whilst doing the sport I love. But the more people I spoke to, I realized that not everyone can be as honest without repercussions, and it’s great to be in a position where I can help them.
How do you think straight and cisgender athletes can be allies to LGBTQ athletes?
I think everyone can be allies, and it’s important for straight and cisgender athletes to speak openly about LGBTQ issues and not be afraid to talk about them within their own sport. As athletes, we prove to be huge role models for so many. By starting positive conversations, we can help a wide range of fans to better understand — and hopefully support— the LGBTQ community.
What advice would you give to young LGBTQ athletes who are wondering if they can be who they are and participate in the sport they love?
During my school years, people always used to say to me, “black people don’t swim.” And yet I’ve managed to smash that stereotype to pieces by competing in 2 World Championships and breaking 4 Jamaican Records. Of course, it’s always going to be daunting at the very beginning because the unknown is scary, but if you never try and live your best life, you’ll never be able to fully enjoy the sport. People might tell you “being gay is wrong,” but they’re wrong, and it’s on all of us to break down that stigma.
What is your hope for the future of LGBTQ inclusion in sport?
My hope, dream and ambition is to carry on fighting to make sport a more inclusive place for athletes, so that everyone can live their everyday lives being their authentic selves. My main target is to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games, but any support I can give while striving to achieve my dream would be a bonus.
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