This gay Olympic hopeful was told 'Black people don't swim.' His success proves otherwise.
Michael Gunning's mere presence in the water as a professional swimmer is defying a widely believed stereotype that Black people don't swim. His competitive spirit, ambition and medals are shattering that stereotype.
Gunning, holds dual citizenship in the U.K. as well as Jamaica, with the latter being the country he currently represents. Gunning would most likely have been a part of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - had the new coronavirus not interrupted the games as well as his stellar career, with three Jamaica records already under his belt, according to an interview with Reuters.
Gunning’s parents first took him swimming at age four.
By 13, he took his first British national title for the 200m butterfly. And by 16, he had qualified for the European Open Water Championships with the British national team.
“I was so excited that I didn’t think about the nerves at the time,” he said, enthusiasm evident in his voice. “I was doing what I loved and had the best times going away with the team and flying the GB flag.”
As a cast member of The Bi Life, the first bisexual dating show in the U.K, Gunning initially came out as bisexual, but after experiencing his first date with a man, he later came out to his cast mates and the viewers as gay.
As an openly gay professional athlete representing Jamaica, a country that in 2006, TIME Magazine called "the most homophobic place on earth”, with gay sex outlawed and numerous attacks on the LGBT+ community, has proven to be difficult. However, it is worth noting that while progress may be slow towards LGBTQ equality in Jamaica, the country held it's first-ever LGBTQ Pride event in 2015.
“The world is turning slowly and I think it is changing and I’m sure in time, Jamaica will accept LGBT people and legislation will change, but it’s a slow process and I think the more role models we have, the better,” he said.
If swimming proved a handy distraction from coming to terms with being gay, Gunning says it helped power him in the pool.
“Because I wasn’t ready to address my inner feelings, I put all of that effort into swimming and had a good junior career.”
He has the qualifying times for next year’s Olympics - postponed to 2021 by the coronavirus crisis - and has spent the lockdown training and sharing a house with British Olympic swimming gold medallist Rebecca Adlington and her daughter.
He is unabated by the future challenges of Jamaica or the past taunts of Britain - his eyes are trained on 2021.