Kiwi-born Tongan swimmer comes out in US

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 10:29 07/05/2013
Amini Fonua
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
OUT OF CLOSET: A New Zealand born Tongan athlete who studies at one of America’s more homophobic colleges has declared he is gay.

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A New Zealand-born Tongan athlete studying at a United States college has declared that he is gay.

Swimmer Amini Fonua, 23, was the flag-bearer for Tonga at the London Olympics last year.

He studies at Texas A&M, which has been constantly ranked as one of the most homophobic schools in America by the Princeton Review.

Fonua made his announcement in his campus newspaper,  The Battallion, which said he held many titles, including captain of the swimming team.

Fonua, a telecommunications and media studies major, said problems arose when people had to hide their true identity.

He had received an honour ring known as an Aggie.

"An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal," Fonua said. "And if you're living in the closet, you're living a lie."

From his personal experiences, he has felt the need to defend the school against accusations of homophobia.

Fonua's openness follows last months announcement by NBA player Jason Collins that he was gay, the first active athlete in the history of the four major US professional sports to come out.

Swimming as a sport was open-minded, Fonua told the Battalion, which helped him feel accepted for everything that he is.

"Everyone knows that your success as a swimmer isn't correlated to your sexuality or your sexual orientation," Fonua said. "Whether you swim a fast time or whether you make the right amount of hoops or have a high batting percentage, nothing else matters."

Athletics carried an additional masculine stereotype that could at times make sports even less welcoming for gay men and women than the general public, Fonua said.

"I think the reason people are so fascinated with it in sports is because there is this very hyper-masculine idea attached to being an athlete, especially a professional athlete," he said.

"But at the end of the day, that's what they are - they're professional athletes."

In light of A&M's perception as a gay-unfriendly campus, Fonua said others would ask him how he functioned in what appeared to be a hostile environment.

He said these perceptions of Texas A&M as an unfriendly campus contradicted the positive experiences he had had as a student.

"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," he said.

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"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 sensationalise how something really is."

As a swimmer at the 2012 Olympics, he competed in the men's 100 metres breaststroke, failing to reach the semifinals. 

- Stuff

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