Canadian Olympic swimmer Martha McCabe came out as lesbian in an interview Friday, telling the CBC TV network she did it to encourage closeted girls and women to dive in, too.
“I want to be an example to young female swimmers and help ones who are struggling with this, so they can see it’s normal,” said McCabe, the world championship and Pan Am Games silver medalist who is now retired. “Parents also need to recognize that this needs to be normalized. Kids don’t see this everywhere, and when you don’t see it, it becomes this hurdle you have to get over.”
McCabe, 30, told the CBC’s Matthew Pariselli that in her eight years as a swimmer on Canada’s national team, she never felt attracted to women, but believes it might have been different, had lesbian athletes been more commonplace and as accepted; She figured she had at least 10 teammates who identified as LGBTQ+, but almost all were men.
“I think because I didn’t see it in people I looked up to, the thought never crossed my mind. I didn’t question the norms society had built around me because I didn’t even realize there was something to question,” the two-time Olympian told the CBC.
“For me, swimming was the world,” said McCabe. “Sure, I probably knew a couple of lesbians outside of swimming, but I was barely paying attention to my life outside of swimming.
“The people I looked up to were in swimming. The people I was constantly surrounded by and giving my full attention to were in swimming. I think if there was an out lesbian within that circle, someone I could have potentially looked up to, it would have been normalized a little bit more.
“I think because there haven’t really been any superstars in the sport publicly come out as lesbian and advocate for women in the LGBTQ+ space, it makes it more challenging to realize these things about yourself,” she said.
McCabe, who specialized in the 200-meter breaststroke and placed fifth in the London 2012 Olympics, said she didn’t even start to examine her sexuality until after her retirement.
Although she marched as an ally with the Canadian Olympic Committee in Toronto’s 2019 Pride parade, she just celebrated her first Pride Month as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, online, with her girlfriend.
“I was single for a long time, and although I never felt lonely or like I was missing anything, I’m now very grateful and happy to have a partner who I really want to spend time enjoying all of life’s activities with,” she said.
McCabe has the support of the man she strode alongside in London for her first Olympic Games in 2012, Mark Tewksbury, the Olympic champion swimmer who is now a director of the COC as well as a vocal advocate for gay rights since coming out publicly in 1998.
“Obviously Martha is not the first one. I even know of women who were members of the community, but very private about it,” Tewksbury told the CBC.
“I’m realizing how unfortunate that is. Even some Olympic medallists, I think they could have been really good role models for Martha.
“This is so important, Martha sharing her story. I don’t know how many women have ever been on the national team and have publicly identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community before. It’s great; it starts a whole different level of conversation, hopefully in places across the country that need it.”
After retiring, McCabe founded Head to Head, a mentorship company that connects youth with Olympians. She said inclusion is a topic Olympians are encouraged to discuss, with the goal of helping young people build inclusive environments in all the spaces they occupy.
“Young people need to be able to see themselves in the people they look up to,” she said. “We need minority voices from different races, sexualities, gender identities, etc. — people bold enough to speak out, to share and to be themselves publicly so that younger generations can see they are not alone, and that you can be successful despite your differences,” she said.
Click here to read more of the CBC’s interview with Martha McCabe, and how the Canmore, Alberta resident who hails from Toronto was accepted by friends and family, as well as her thoughts on Christion Jones, the former wide receiver for the Edmonton Eskimos who tweeted his opposition to gay and lesbian relationships last month during Pride.