Welcome to a series on Proudly dedicated to sharing the stories from a variety of influential LGBTQ+ content creators who come from all different backgrounds within the media.
This series will enable us to showcase their achievements and experiences within the industry and give advice to inspire future content creators from the LGBTQ+ community.
Proudly wants to shine a light on the people who have made strides in a very competitive industry. Hopefully, this series is the start of something special for Proudly where we have been lucky enough to interview inspiring people such as Matt Horwood, A Gay and A NonGay podcast hosts James Barr and Dan Hudson, Jon Holmes, Amazin LêThi, Benjamin Cohen, Kaylee Golding and Jon Lee-Olsen who have shared their incredible stories with us already.
Today’s article is dedicated to our latest LGBTQ+ influencer. Michael Gunning is an international competitive swimmer who holds dual Jamaican and British citizenship but is hoping to represent Jamaica at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.
Michael revealed to Reuters that he decided to represent Jamaica after witnessing the horrifying 2017 Manchester terror attack in person.
“It really put life into perspective and that was the year that I decided to swim for Jamaica to inspire more people and to share my story.”– Michael Gunning told Reuters how surviving the Manchester terror attack put his life into perspective and impacted a big decision for his future.
Introducing Michael Gunning
Michael Gunning is a professional swimmer and Olympic hopeful who is the current national record holder for the 200-metre butterfly and the 200 and 400-metre freestyle events for the Jamaican national team. With Tokyo 2021 being the target for Michael, he sadly had to prolong his dream due to the Coronavirus outbreak delaying the summer games for another year.
Michael spoke with MySwimPro all about what it is like currently training for the Olympics whilst in Quarantine.
If Michael does get the chance to represent Jamaica it will definitely be a colossal step forward for LGBTQ+ representation on both a national level and within the island nation.
If he is to qualify for the 2021 Olympics, Gunning will be competing for Jamaica only 15 years after Time Magazine had labelled Jamaica “the most homophobic place on earth.” In Jamaica, male same-sex activity is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in jail — possibly with hard labour.
Thankfully, conditions have improved for the country’s LGBTQ community, with the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-Flag) growing in size and influence and an annual Pride Week being celebrated by over 1,200 people. The country’s anti-sodomy law is also being legally challenged.
Michael has been very open about his sexuality since coming out as gay on the television show The Bi Life, hosted by iconic drag queen Courtney Act in December 2018.
Since that announcement Gunning has gone on to win the Pride Award at the Attitude Pride Awards 2019 for his efforts in visualising LGBTQ+ sport around the globe.
Preconceptions and discriminations when starting out
Michael told Proudly that throughout his junior swimming career, back when he represented Team GB, he was always told that ‘black people can’t swim’ and to ‘choose a sport on the athletic field.’
“I ignored all those comments and continued to strive towards my dreams. I loved changing the stereotypes and even today as a professional athlete, I still feel like I’m constantly stereotyped as an athlete because no-one would ever suspect that a black athlete from Jamaica can swim.”– Michael Gunning on how he reacted to the outdated stereotypes and negativity towards him
A fear for Michael was being seen as weak and vulnerable if he came out as gay because among society there weren’t many role models to make it ‘normalised’, but believes the world is changing and that he is really excited for what the future will look like in the many years to come.
Has the Jamaica anti-gay laws ever effected you representing the country?
“This is a question I get asked a lot, and unfortunately, the honest answer is yes. I’ve always known I’ve been different in regards to my sexuality, and when I came out I always knew that there were risks, but ultimately, I learned to suppress my thoughts and feelings for so many years but the time was right for me to be true to myself, regardless of the repercussions. It was something I felt like I had to do.”
“Personally, I’ve never felt like I’ve been in danger after coming out; in fact, it was quite the opposite because I received so much love and support. I feel honoured knowing that my coming out story will be historic within the Caribbean and I helped both young and old generations feel they are accepted as their true self.”– Michael Gunning discussing the importance of representing Jamaica as an openly gay athlete
Representing the black community
As stated earlier in the article Michael was met with horrendous backlash and was discriminated against whilst starting his swimming career at an early age because of his race. Michael is very proud of his heritage and is honoured to be a role model for all the young black swimmers/athletes out there.
“I think it’s so important to push for diversity and inclusion within our lifestyles everyday!”
“One major turning point of lockdown 2020 has been the worldwide solidarity to challenge racism, inequality and injustice within our society; it really showed us the importance of sharing each other’s story (the good and the bad), as sharing is educating.”– Michael Gunning on the importance of inclusion and diversity within sports and everyday life.
Michael Gunning’s advice for future generations of LGBTQ+ Athletes?
Lastly, Proudly like to ask all our influencers if they could give one bit of advice to the future generations of LGBTQ+ people trying to break into the world of sport.
This is the advice Michael would like to give to our readers who are striving to break into professional sport.
“I’ve learnt so much along my journey, but the biggest thing I’ve taken from sport is to never let anyone tell you it can’t be done. During my school years, people always used to say to me ‘black people don’t swim’ but I’ve managed to smash that stereotype to pieces by competing in 2 World Championships and breaking 4 Jamaican Records.”
“Of course, it’s always going to be daunting at the very beginning because the unknown is scary, but if you never try and live the best part of you, you’ll never be able to fully enjoy the sport. It’s down to us to break those stereotypes!”– Michael Gunning’s expert advice for the next generation of aspiring LGBTQ+ athletes
As mentioned previously, Proudly.blog will be taking an insight into various LGBTQ+ creators to help inspire the young and upcoming journalists of today. If you have a story you would like to share or think you know someone who would like to share their story. Get in touch and get involved.
A huge thank you to Michael Gunning for sharing his story and advice to our readers.
Michael Gunning’s social’s
Our readers can stay up to date with everything Michael by viewing his social media pages below.