For Michael Gunning, an elite-level swimmer who lives in Britain but competes for Jamaica, coming out as gay last year was the best thing for his career.
“I became a better athlete after I came out because I was no longer worrying about hiding a part of myself from everyone around me,” Gunning says in a first-person essay in MetroUK.
Gunning, 25, came out as gay last year on the reality show “The Bi Life,” which showed him on his first date with a man. It’s a decision he hasn’t regretted, he wrote in his essay.
Although it was daunting to come out on television, I have no regrets. Being in that villa of like-minded people who understood what it’s like to feel different was exactly what I needed.
I didn’t really grow up with many LGBTQ role models — especially in sport — so there wasn’t much out there to help me learn about who I was and feel OK in my own skin. Particularly as a black gay sportsman, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me being open about who they are and who they love.
Seeing yourself reflected in someone else and their experience can be such a powerful, personal affirmation, but for so long I was lacking that. Still, I also never imagined that my ‘coming out’ story on the show would have sparked so many discussions within the LGBTQ sporting community.
Gunning has competed in the 2017 and 2019 world swimming championships and this year broke the Jamaican record for the 200-meter butterfly. The mark he set should make him eligible to swim in that event for Jamaica at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the website SwimSwam reports.
“When I came out,” Gunning writes, “everyone reacted better than I could have ever imagined. This past year, I’ve travelled to Australia, Switzerland, South Korea and Puerto Rico for international swimming competitions and I’ve had nothing but love and support for my coming out story.”
Gunning’s experience matches what virtually every LGBTQ athlete has said after coming out. By not having to expend the emotional energy on staying in the closet, these athletes are liberated to be themselves and strive to reach their full potential. It’s one more reason that any LGBTQ athlete in a position to do so should come out.