Coming Out in Sport

In 1981, Martina Navratilova paved the way for LGBTQI acceptance as she became one of the first openly gay sport figures to come out whilst still playing professionally.  When Navratilova came out, she had won 59 grand slam crowns and a record nine Wimbledon singles championships. Following the news, one columnist headlined a column about her match against Chris Evert, “Good Versus Evil.”

Reactions to both athletes and individuals coming out has changed drastically 1981, with same sex marriage now recognized by more than 25 countries helping to provide acceptance. Declaring sexuality, however, for most gay people, is the most traumatic experience of their lives. Sharing any part of our authentic selves requires extreme vulnerability and the willingness to take a risk, which many are too scared to take.

National water polo champion and former Aussie Stinger Alicia Brightwell recently featured on the Treading Water Podcast, detailing her experience of coming out as a lesbian. In the interview, Alicia details her approach to making the announcement light and humorous, “I just think whatever the situation, find a way to make it humorous, relatable and human.” Alicia decided to tell her friends by writing an email titled ‘Changing Teams,’ informing them of one more detail about herself with wit and comedy.

She does however, also note in her episode the doubts and insecurities she had during that time and the internal process she endured, “you always think that your friends will be there for you, and they wont care, but there is always that little bit of doubt.” She also noted that the lack of openly lesbian water polo athletes at the time affected her certainty as she admitted, “at the time I didn’t know a lot of people who were out, and so it was kind of a big deal. I hope in the future that is not the case and people don’t have to go through that internal process and come out to family and friends, but that was the case for me.”

In 2001 the Sydney Stingers were formed, creating the first competitive LGBTIQ water polo club in Australia.  Since then, the Melbourne Surge, Perth White Pointers and Brisbane Tritons have also provided an inclusive, friendly environment for LGBTQI people across Australia to learn, play water polo, train and socialize.

With these clubs in place, and with role models like Alicia that are paving the way for the LGBTQI community, there is hope that one day it won’t be a big event for people to come out. Even now as time has passed, Alicia admitted that, “the fact that I thought I needed to say that now seems silly, but at the time it was so real and raw.”

The Treading Water Podcast is available on iTunes or through the Google Podcast app. 
Listen to Alicia's Episode by following the links below:

iTunes Link:

Whooshka Link:

Emma Brown