Michael Gunning, the first openly Black gay man to swim for Team Jamaica, has opened up about the horrific bullying he endured as a child.
The Olympic hopeful, who is one of only a handful of Black swimmers at the sport’s elite level, talked to BBC Sport about the discrimination he faced in school.
“I know lots of kids get bullied at school, and I was one of them,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure at the time if it was my race, or whether it was just because I was different.
“One of the hardest things was when I was in science and a group of boys just started throwing acid at me.”
Gunning said the incident was extremely “embarrassing”, but it wasn’t the only time he was singled out for his identity.
When training before school, he said, people would consistently ask him: “Don’t Black people sink?”
These experiences drove him to work towards breaking stereotypes of Black swimmers and athletes in general, something that is an ongoing mission for him.
“It was really hurtful and made me question myself, but I guess even then I loved breaking stereotypes — and showing off my medals was nice too.”
Michael Gunning says Jamaica response has been ’99 per cent positive’.
Michael Gunning said he feels lucky to have only experienced a “little” discrimination on his way to the top.
He came out as gay after being cast on The Bi Life in 2018, by which time he had already switched sporting allegiances from Britain to Jamaica, his father’s homeland.
Gunning admitted he was “nervous” due to Jamaica’s reputation of anti-LGBT+ hostility, but said that other than a few negative comments, the reaction has been “99 per cent positive”.
Discussing next year’s Olympics, Gunning said: “It would mean everything to be a Jamaican gay swimmer competing on the biggest stage there is and being my open, honest self.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re white, Black, gay, lesbian or anything else and it’s crucial people around the world see what’s possible.”