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Michael Gunning: Pride Month

I first learnt to swim at the age of 4, and swimming continually brought that sense of unity and togetherness that ‘Pride’ represents. For me, Pride Month is a special month because it celebrates authenticity and the journey that individuals go through to stand where they are today. I’ve been extremely lucky to represent both of my duel nationalities on the international stage of swimming, and I’ve always felt so much pride when wearing the British and Jamaican kit and travelling the world with my sport.

Speedo athlete in Jamaica gear

Snooty Fox

The one thing I haven’t always been proud of was my sexuality, and for a long time I suppressed my true thoughts and feelings to try and fit in with everyone else. I was already a minority in sport, being one of the only mixed-race international athletes in the UK, so the thought of being further isolated with my sexuality was a big fear of mine.

It takes a lot of courage to ‘come out’ and admit you are different in today’s society, but everyone is on their own path to acceptance and self-discovery. There is no ‘right’ time to come out, but for me, when I missed the cut for the Commonwealth Games team in 2018, I took a small break from swimming and found the courage to embrace who I truly am.

I was so worried about what the reaction would be and whether any of my coaches or teammates would treat me differently, but to my surprise, nothing changed at all and I could finally have more open conversations and bring my true self to poolside everyday. Of course, there will always be the odd negative comment online, but the positive messages always outweigh the negatives and it really is a good feeling being able to live your true self everyday. Not all countries yet have the freedom that the UK have in terms of rights and equality, and speaking out about my sexuality made me the Caribbean’s first openly gay professional athlete. I was so worried about the repercussions, but the lives that I’ve been able to impact have been life changing, and I’m looking forward to continuing my work for equality around the world, especially within those countries that still hold homophobic laws.

Along the way, I’ve experienced bullying, stereotyping, and mistreatment, but overall, I’ve been incredibly lucky that all these experiences have been followed with love, support, and praise. In my darkest moments, swimming got me through and despite swimming being seen as individual sport, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my teammates, coaches, family and friends outside of the pool.

I hope there will be a day in the future where people don’t have to ‘come out’, and can just live and talk about their relationships like heterosexual people do. No matter the colour of your skin, the race you were born or your sexuality… we all live in this world as one and our hearts beat together. We should all embrace our differences.

As a successful British and Jamaican swimmer, I want to carry on inspiring people all around the world and help break the mould of black and homophobic stereotypes, and I truly feel like every day I’m making a step closer to achieving that dream.

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