by Sabine Hannakampf
The Olympic Games in Tokyo would have started on 24 July – if the coronavirus had not ensured that the Games would be postponed by one year. At the opening ceremony Michael Gunning would certainly have been right at the front.
Born in 1994, Gunning is openly gay. And uses his dual citizenship to draw attention to the homophobia in Jamaica.
Even at school he “felt completely different”, Gunning recently announced in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. But it would be several years before he realized why. During this time, swimming had been a practical distraction from dealing with being gay. “Since I was not prepared to deal with my inner feelings, I put all that effort into swimming and made a good junior career out of it.”
The ambition paid off: At the age of 13, Gunning won his first British national title in the 200-meter butterfly discipline, and at 16 he qualified with the British national team for the European Open Water Championships. Since 2017 Gunning, who has Jamaican and British citizenship, has been part of the Jamaican national swimming team. Currently he holds the national record in 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter freestyle and 400-meter freestyle.
Jamaica ranks 161st in the Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2020, and is the most dangerous country for sexual minorities in the Caribbean. Homosexuality is illegal and also socially strongly ostracized, often on religious grounds. According to a 2004 survey, 96 percent of Jamaicans were against a relaxation of the penal laws regarding same-sex sexual intercourse. This refers to gay sex, as women are not mentioned at all in the legal texts. Nevertheless, there are also isolated reports of sexualised violence against lesbians, including so-called “corrective rape” in which one or more men rape lesbian women in order to “cure” them.
For a successful gay swimmer this is therefore not the first country on the priority list. But Gunning says he made a conscious decision to swim for Jamaica. The decision was made after an Islamist suicide bomber blew himself up on 22 May 2017 after a pop concert by US singer Ariana Grande in the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people. The terrorist attack changed his life in perspective, explains Gunning, and so he decided this year to swim for Jamaica to inspire more people and share his story. As a ‘gay figurehead’ he has more opportunities to make improvements in Jamaica in terms of LGBTIQ* rights.
“The world turns slowly but I believe it is changing and I am sure that Jamaica will accept LGBT people in time and the legislation will change but it is a slow process and I think the more role models we have the better.
Community support and praise
For his efforts to make LGBTIQ*s visible in sports, Michael Gunning was awarded the 2019 Attitude Pride Award. Since 2015, the gay magazine attitude has been annually honoring individuals from the queer community who contribute to making the world a safer, friendlier and more acceptable place. At the award ceremony, Gunning told the magazine his story.
For a long time Gunning thought he was bisexual. It wasn’t until the reality dating show The Bi Life, in which he participated in 2018, that he finally realized that he identified himself as gay. In the bisexual dating show The Bi Life, hosted by the Australian drag queen Courtney Act, young bisexual people were accompanied over ten episodes as they explore the dating scene in Barcelona, giving each other advice and support.
Gunning is also involved in the BlackLivesMatter movement. With his call to fight for equality, inclusion and diversity on a daily basis, he also makes it unmistakably clear that all lives count!
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I really struggle to process what is going on in the world right now & although I agree that #BlackLivesMatter, I think we need to FIGHT for equality, inclusion & diversity everyday single day! 💫 We must never stop trying to make this world a better place & allow everyone to live freely without any judgement… I’ve been lucky that I’ve never experienced racism, but last year I went to my very first Pride Event & it made me realise that no-one should ever feel isolated or alone. Speak up, show support, help make a change! That’s all I ask from everyone during these times as it can bring us all together as a society! Xx
- Michael Gunning: By: Michael Gunning / instagram.com
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