Michael Gunning is heading into summer with one goal in mind: making the Paris Olympics the gayest games yet!

The elite swimmer, who retired from the pool four years ago, will be an ambassador for Pride House-Paris 2024. Pride House is an inclusive venue present at all major international sporting events, with the mission of creating an open and inclusive atmosphere.

Gunning was an ambassador for the first time at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“The Olympics is all about bringing people together, and I hope to help inspire, educate and empower everyone who arrives in Paris ready for the biggest sporting event in the world,” he told Attitude Mag.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old Gunning represented the U.K. and Jamaica during his 16-year career, in which he set eight national records, won three British titles and two world swimming championships.

Though Gunning was born in the U.K., he made his splash on the international swimming scene while representing Jamaica, his father’s home country. As a child, he overcame the debased notion that Black people are inherently poor swimmers, winning his first national swimming title at 13 years old.

Quickly, Gunning became the most accomplished swimmer in Jamaica’s history. He holds the country’s records for the 200-meter butterfly and 200- and 400-meter freestyle events.

But that doesn’t mean his life was easy. Jamaica is one of the most homophobic countries on earth, and gay relations are illegal.

With that dark reality in mind, Gunning knew that coming out could jeopardize his safety. But he made his announcement anyway, coming out on a reality dating show, The Bi Life, in 2018.

Gunning still competed for Jamaica following the episode, though he received threats from his fellow countrymen. He told Queerty the positive messages he received, of which there were many, kept him going.

“It’s always tough speaking about certain topics whilst being in the public eye, but it was important for me to come out when I did, as it was the missing piece of puzzle in my life,” he said.

“Receiving so much hate online was incredibly tough, but the positive messages really got me through the darkness and showed me that I was never alone. The light always outshines the darkness if we stick together and shine as one, and it felt great that I was inspiring so many people all around the world by just being me.”

The experience of living life as a visible out gay athlete is the primary reason Gunning is involved in Pride House. He understands how powerful sports can be.

“Sport is a better place when everyone can be their true authentic self, and I’m forever grateful for all the support that’s shaped me into the athlete and person I am today,” he said.

There’s already one out Olympian who cites Gunning as a role model: Scottish swimmer Daniel Jervis. He qualified for his second Summer Games Thursday, winning the 1,500-meter freestyle at the British Olympic trials.

Jervis publicly came out in 2022, right before the Commonwealth Games.

“When I looked at Michael, I could just see how proud he was,” he said. “I wanted to be like him. What I liked about him was how much he helped me without him knowing. That’s what I wanted to do for someone else. I messaged him, and he messaged back. He really helped me through that experience.”

Though Jervis relished his Olympic experience in Tokyo, his time in Paris this summer promises to be even sweeter. On Thursday, members of his family and partner were in attendance for his triumph.

“If I’m honest, this right now is probably the best moment of my swimming career. I’m very fortunate, I’ve got an amazing support network – I’ve got my family, my friends, I’ve got my partner here,” he said in a post-race interview. “What a moment. I’m just so happy.”

That’s the kind of impact that Gunning wants to have on LGBTQ+ athletes. He’s only increased his platform since retiring, working as a TV personality and host in Britain.

A regular on the red carpet scene, Gunning says he’s making his biggest impact away from the pool.

“I’ve got so much more to give the world,” he said in an interview with the Guardian. “The amount of lives that I’ve impacted means more to me than medals.”

More than anything, Gunning doesn’t want LGBTQ+ kids to experience the isolation he once felt.

“I was so ashamed of my [orientation] growing up, and I didn’t want anyone else to feel that shame,” he told the Daily Mirror. “It’s taken me to go through my journey to realize that so many people probably feel like they aren’t good enough, like they don’t deserve to be alive, they don’t deserve to be happy in this world. And I just wanted to prove that actually, we can be happy, even if you’re different.”

On that note, Gunning says he’s looking forward to the day when LGBTQ+ athletes can just be their true selves, without inviting all of the extra attention and fanfare.

“I look forward to the moment where being ‘out’ doesn’t matter though,” he said. “And athletes and coaches can drop their loved one’s name without it breaking the media, just like heterosexual couples do.”

Gunning is trying to move society in that direction, along with three other Pride House-Paris 2024 ambassadors: trans artist Louïz, LGBTQ+ activist Amazin LeThi, and Australian Paralympic rower Nikki Ayers.

With a record 186 out athletes competing in Tokyo, there could be even more this summer in Paris. And Gunning will enjoy a front row seat.

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