SWIMFAN

Olympic Swimmer Comes Out As Gay At “Most Conservative University” in U.S.

Amini-FonuaAmini Fonua, a New Zealand-born swimmer and Olympian, attends Texas A&M University, which the Princeton Review ranked as the most conservative university and 7th-most unfriendly LGBT campus in America.

Fonua, 23, represented Tonga, his father’s homeland, at the 2012 Olympics and also served as the tiny island-nation’s flag-bearer. He became the first Tongan swimmer to win an international medal after snatching gold in the 50-meter breaststroke at the 2010 Oceania Swimming Championships and last year, Fonua was the Big 12 champion in the 100-meter breaststroke.

However, as “perhaps the only openly gay male athlete at A&M”, Fonua — the school’s former swim team captain — is quick to defend his school against accusations of homophobia, particularly in light of a recent Student Senate bill that would’ve allow students to “opt-out” of funding an LGBT center on campus.

The bill was eventually vetoed by the Student Body President, but Fonua argues that it was not indicative of the school as a whole. “I’m kind of sick of having to try to defend my school to other people, because I think it’s a very small minority,” Fonua told his school newspaper, The Battalion. “Homophobia is at every university, it’s not just A&M. It’s everywhere. It might be a little more prevalent here, but I do think that people will sensationalize how something really is.”

Fonua has been out since his first days on campus, an experience he described in an editorial for Swim Swam:

A conversation with my Team Captain from my freshman year at Texas A&M personify these principles.  Seeing no reason to hide, I was open about who I was even as a freshman.  A Captain took me aside to speak.  He said that if anybody marginalized me because of who I was, he wanted to know about it immediately. Hate is not an Aggie value, and if anything remotely hateful was happening, he promised to end it…There are many successful gay people in our sport.  Our sport has thrived because of the open minds that people have.

While he was honored to compete in the Olympics, Fonua regards receiving the Aggie Heart — “given to a teammate who puts the team’s needs above their own and exemplifies leadership and has all the qualities of what it means to be an Aggie”  — as his most proud accomplishment. “And to get that as a gay athlete is pretty huge, especially because it’s peer-voted,” he added.

Fonua is currently finishing up his major in senior telecommunications and media studies at A&M, but he has no plans to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero. Rather, he’s made the difficult decision to take a break from swimming.“It’s a huge part of my identity, and that’s what I think a lot of people don’t understand — that when you swim, and you stop for a period of time, you sort of lose a big part and a big piece of who you are,” Fonua said.

“It isn’t everything that I am, but it certainly is a big part of who I am. Much like being gay. Part of who I am, but not everything that I am.”

Since publicly coming out, Fonua continues to garner support, not only from his fellow Aggies, but the world wide webs as well:

 

Photo: Tonganz.net

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24 Comments

  • Gigi Gee

    Coming out can be a very powerful and persuasive thing. Congratulations!

  • Billysees

    Those Kiwis are cute, aren’t they ?

    Kia ora Amini…..

  • Raquel Santiago

    I would have to tend to agree with him that homophobia is on every campus but some more predominant than others. Even here at San Francisco State University we have phobic students of all kinds and this is SF. Problem is when they ask faculty about it, they all have blinders on and think NOOO not at our college. Time to turn off those blinders people and realize that hate is still all around us in all forms.

  • rojo

    GIG’EM!

  • Kieran

    Give him a gold medal for courage.

  • Cam

    Visibility helps. Good for him!

  • mpwaite

    So proud and honored to have him as a fellow AGGIE!! GIG EM AMINI!!!

  • Steve Rider

    Good for Mr Fonua, but as for differences in homophobia, only some campuses consider anti-gay sentiment to reflect official university policy. That is the difference between a religious school and a rational one.

  • D9W

    “when you swim, and you stop for a period of time, you sort of lose a big part and a big piece of who you are,” Fonua said.

    Isn’t that the truth!

  • Teleny

    Love this story!!! Way to go Amini!!!

  • hotshot70

    now if only Lochte and Phelps would admit something…

  • jmmartin

    Rating Texas A&M “conservative” is putting it mildly. They have a long-time rivalry with their cross-state competitor in football, the University of Texas, A&M being in the heart of East Texas, an evangelical hotbed; U.T., in wild, crazy Austin. The Aggies, as A&Mers are known, love all of the jokes told about them. Imagine a “Polak” joke with Aggies as the butt. Well, the story goes that an Agroid (my U.T.-graduate brother’s name for them) went to a first dinner with his new boss and mentioned that U.T. boys “are all steers and queers.” When told by the somewhat upset employer that “my wife happens to have gone to the University in Austin,” the Aggie wondered aloud, “Oh, really, which one is she?” No, one suspects the young swimmer will be bullied in College Station.

  • ChiChi Man

    @Steve Rider: “but as for differences in homophobia, only some campuses consider anti-gay sentiment to reflect official university policy”

    Yep, have to agree. Homophobia is everywhere, but some schools ARE worse than others. As a handsome Olympian, Mr. Fonua’s experience is probably different from that of the average LGBT student.

    Still, kudos for him for being brave, visible and out.

  • Wayne_in_NYC

    Wouldn’t he and Tom Daley have some beautiful little guppies? Or him and Matt Mitcham!

  • Brad Shannon

    Aggies are the pride of Texas. Make so mistake about it. I went to SMU but am jealous of their pride and academics. Go to A&M to study and make $$$, go to UT to party and get really wild. If they could only combine the two );
    I’m glad the Aggies are more diverse and tolerant than ever. Progress. I came out 8 years ago and my Aggie friends were cool with it.

  • guest4ever

    Funny how homosexuals love to label as “hate” any opposition to their suicidal lifestyle.

    And will Queerty be there to help Fonua pick up the pieces of his life when he tests positive?

    Hmmm… probably not.

    And so the Devil laughs.

  • guest4ever

    Texas A&M University is a great center of learning that has made incalculable contributions to the state of Texas and the nation as a whole in agriculture and engineering as well as many other fields.

    To now be represented by a young man who engages in anal and oral sex with other men is just not right… A&M deserves better than that.

    I’m elated that Fonua is taking a break from swimming and the spotlight… and wish him godspeed if he relocates to somewhere else.

    Hopefully San Francisco.

  • Wadey-New Zealand

    Im not surprised he is a NZ’er. We aint backwards at being forwards, with a “fuck what you think” attitude :D

  • GlitterKidder

    @guest4ever: You’re the reason abortion is legal.

  • PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS

    @guest4ever: Here is hoping you drown in your bitter hate filled bigoted pool…………………

    And BTW you don’t think the vast majority of the straight students at the very same university don’t engage in anal and oral sex??????

  • PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS

    Love to dive into that…………… :p

  • PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS

    @GlitterKidder: Or a good argument for retroactive abortion……………

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  • highestbidder

    Let’s get serious, “the most conservative university” – that’s kind of a joke. These things are all relative. Unless you’re talking about Bob Jones or Liberty a “conservative” university is nowhere near the equivalent of a right wing conservative evangelical Christian politician or Opus Dei or The Mormon Church.

Comments are closed.