Kalyany Steele spent her life hiding her identity, but during the last practice before UCLA’s Pride Meet this year, the elite gymnast decided to open up. Speaking in front of her teammates gathered around the mat, Steele shared her secret: she’s bisexual.
She was immediately embraced, and went on to record her best score ever.
“You feel like there’s no one you can relate to, no one you can talk to,” Steele says in her coming out video, which was posted on the last day of Pride Month. “But I promise you, by the time you branch out from that suburban town you’ve grown up in, you’ll flourish, and you’ll finally feel the freedom you don’t even realize you’re being repressed from.”
Steele shared her story recently with the Los Angeles Times, telling journalist Thuc Nhi Nguyen about the personal awakening she experienced when she walked onto UCLA’s campus two years ago. Growing up in Colorado Springs, which is roughly 70 miles south of Denver, Steele says she didn’t have any LGBTQ role models — especially in the world of women’s gymnastics. She reached incredible heights as an young gymnast, competing at the U.S. National Championships in 2016 and 2017 and attending three Team USA training camps. And yet, she never felt at home.
That changed at UCLA, where differences are celebrated.
“Every single person is completely unique and everyone totally embraces it and loves each other,” she said.
Towards the end of the team’s final practice before its annual Pride Meet on Feb. 9, Steele gathered her teammates, and said the week’s events had motivated her to come out. Several of her teammates said they loved her. Hugs were liberally exchanged.
Before the Bruins’ Pride Meet at Pauley Pavilion, her teammates and coaches ordered the standard LGBTQ rainbow flag, as well as flags for the bisexual and transgender communities. During the meet, Steele scored a then-career high 9.85 on bars. She finished the season on a tear, scoring a 9.85 or higher in each of her last four meets.
Steele felt unburdened, and was performing like it. In the message to her younger self, Steele says coming out was the best feeling of her life.
“A huge weight will have been lifted off your shoulders,” she says. “You’ll have never felt so loved before.”