The Jamaica international swimmer shares his passion for Pride in the first of a series of #AuthenticMe Q&As for June 2020…
By Jon Holmes
Pride Month 2020 is looking very different to previous years – but it’s never been more important to take a stand for equality.
Athletes, fans and many others across the sports community are increasingly using their platforms to combat discrimination and celebrate diversity. When people feel truly welcome and respected, success is more likely to follow. At Sports Media LGBT+, we promote the #AuthenticMe message to say that being yourself can boost your own performance and improve the culture around you.
Michael Gunning, the Jamaica international swimmer and Stonewall Sport Champion, was one of the guest speakers at our most recent event and we’ve invited him to talk about Pride in the first of a series of Q&As in June.
This summer, due to the pandemic, there are no marches, parades, and outdoor festivals – and for those in sport, with all the focus on getting back out on the pitch, track, court, or pool, there’s a risk that inclusion could be pushed down the list of priorities.
Offering a space and opportunity for LGBT+ people and allies to share their stories is a simple and effective way to mark Pride. In sport, this can help to change perceptions, break down stereotypes, and grow participation. It’s one of several recommendations in our accessible Rainbow Ready resources, written to help anyone in a media and communications role discover practical inclusion steps they and their colleagues can take.
So first up, here’s Michael’s Pride In Sport Q&A…
JH: Thanks for joining us Michael! Why is it important that people, clubs and organisations involved in sport mark Pride Month?
MG: It’s very important – many athletes are still scared to come out, especially at the high levels of sport, and so many people don’t really have anyone they feel they can open up to, even friends or family. To visibly show that there are those of us who are comfortable and competing well at the highest level of our sports, it just inspires others and gives them a story to look at.
When I was growing up, I never had any LGBT+ role models in swimming, so it matters a lot to show the world that it’s OK to be gay, or whatever your sexuality or gender identity, and to be doing your sport.
How would you suggest those in sport can help?
Just start a conversation – whether it’s with one other person, five people or a larger group, reach out and invite others to talk. If someone wants to open up and share their story, then they’ll feel they have that safe place to go to.
Pride began as a protest and for many people, it still is. What would be your statement for right here, right now?
Everyone has a right to be who they are. Whether that’s about race, sexuality, gender or another part of their identity, show people that you support them and that you’ll stand up against any abuse.
I come from quite a niche spectrum – I’m black, I’m gay, and I’m a swimmer. You still don’t see that many black people in swimming. With me, I’m aiming to provide that visibility, and show that there are people like me and it can be done.
Particularly at this time with what’s going on in America and other places in the world, I think it’s so important to speak up. If you just keep quiet, change is not going to happen – and that’s also what Pride is about.
Pride is also a celebration. What do you give thanks for, and who inspires you?
I give thanks for the community. Having other LGBT+ people that I could meet, talk to, confide in, and go to different events with, that just helped me so much.
Going on The Bi Life, and being with people that hadn’t necessarily discussed their sexuality before – especially with me not being out at that time, and never having been in a relationship – it felt so comforting to be able to talk about the feelings that I was going through. I choose to celebrate a community in which we can be open and share our stories.
Karamo Brown from Queer Eye is someone who really inspires me. When I was younger, I didn’t have a role model who was an athlete and who was also black and gay. I’ve listened to a lot of what Karamo has said and written, such as about growing up in his autobiography.
As a sportsperson, I had Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and other amazing swimmers to look up to, athletes who would just win medal after medal. But there was no one I could look at and say ‘I want to be like them’ – because none of them were anywhere near the same as me. Having representation is so important. To this day, I still don’t know many – if any – swimmers who are LGBT+ out there. Hopefully, someone who’s younger can now look at me and aim to be like me.
What would be your Pride anthem, and why?
With me, I go through phases – if I love a song, I’ll listen to it on repeat! I think it would have to be a Britney Spears song. But which one? Being in sport, I’m going to say ‘Work Bitch’ – I really resonate with that, especially when I’m working out, that will just egg me on that little bit more! If it came on at a Pride festival, I’d be up dancing to that.
What LGBT+ moment or cultural happening has really made you proud?
I mentioned it earlier – it’s got to be Queer Eye. I feel that connection with the Fab Five; seeing them going to meet different people and the impact that they’ve had, I just think that show’s amazing. If I could give just an ounce of what they give to others, that would be my ultimate goal. I’ve been fortunate to meet Tan and Jonathan in person and they’re both great.
When a new series drops, I don’t rush it – I prefer to enjoy it. It’s just a feelgood, and you can always relate to whoever is on, whether it’s 1% or 20%. They’re on a mission to raise the profile of LGBT+ people in a positive way and that inspires me to have a similar goal in sport.
What would be your message to someone who’s LGBT+ and who is struggling to find their own Pride?
It’s funny, because I never went to a Pride until last year. I was at Pride in London but I didn’t stay long – because of the Manchester attacks, I’m not a fan of being in massive crowds any more. So I can totally understand why some people would never go. I’d always seen it from afar and been proud of it but had never participated in it myself.
You can make your own Pride, have your own celebration with a group of friends – it doesn’t have to be a parade, and obviously this year’s going to be very different for everyone. As long as you can have that phone call, reach out to that person, show something within your life that you’re proud of, you can celebrate along with everything else.
This month, I’ve got some exciting Pride projects coming up, including with the Olympic Channel and Pink News. It’s great because people can come onto the live and watch, or they can watch it after – other people don’t have to see that they’ve gone on. With the topics that I’m going to talk about, hopefully people will feel more inclined to check out these different events online, and feel more comfortable doing that, because it isn’t a massive crowd of people looking at you. You can just do Pride your way.
If you’ve been inspired by reading this article and would like to connect with our supportive sport and sports media community of LGBT+ people and allies, please contact us (confidence is guaranteed). You can also email Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.