Martha McCabe Comes Out To Help Other LGBTQ+ Women Swimmers ‘Clear The Hurdle & See It’s Normal’

Olympic Trials-finals-9apr2016. Photo Scott Grant
Martha McCabe - Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

When Martha McCabe marched into the Olympic Stadium for the Opening at the London 2012 Games alongside Team Canada Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury, she knew his story well and recognised that there were many athletes who identified as LGBTQ+ but only now, eight years on, has she felt able to come out.

Fresh from her first Pride Month celebration as a member of the “LGBTQ+ community”, the world championship (2011) and Pan Am Games (2015) 200m breaststroke medallist for Canada, has come out publicly in the hopes of inspiring other young swimmers who are concerned about identifying themselves as LGBTQ.

McCabe is particularly concerned about the experience of women when it comes to finding the courage and having the confidence to come out. A national team member for eight years, she estimates that she’s had at least 10 teammates who identified as LGBTQ+, while beyond the national team, she estimates that she’s known around 40 swimmers in university swimming who belong to the LGBTQ+ community.

One of her Canadian teammates, sprinter Markus Thormeyer, recently came out, but since walking into London 2012’s stadium with Tewksbury, the 1992 Olympic 100m backstroke champion who became a vocal advocate for gay rights since coming out publicly in 1998, Martha McCabe noticed was that none of the LGBTQ+ swimmers she knew was a woman. McCabe tells CBC:

“I want to be an example to young female swimmers and help ones who are struggling with this, so they can see it’s normal. Parents also need to recognize that this needs to be normalized. Kids don’t see this everywhere, and when you don’t see it, it becomes this hurdle you have to get over.”

Now 30, McCabe tells CBC: “For me, swimming was the world. Sure, I probably knew a couple of lesbians outside of swimming, but I was barely paying attention to my life outside of swimming.

“The people I looked up to were in swimming. The people I was constantly surrounded by and giving my full attention to were in swimming. I think if there was an out lesbian within that circle, someone I could have potentially looked up to, it would have been normalized a little bit more. I think because there haven’t really been any superstars in the sport publicly come out as lesbian and advocate for women in the LGBTQ+ space, it makes it more challenging to realize these things about yourself.”

Martha McCabe On ‘The Norms Society Built’

Martha McCabe did not confront the issue during her career: she explored her sexuality after she retired from racing. Never attracted to women throughout her years in the pool but things might have been different had the presence of lesbian athletes been a part of the scene and accepted as such. She says:

“I think because I didn’t see it in people I looked up to, the thought never crossed my mind. I didn’t question the norms society had built around me because I didn’t even realize there was something to question.”

Tewksbury agrees that knowing LGBTQ+ women in the sport could have benefited Martha McCabe:

“Obviously Martha is not the first one. I even know of women who were members of the community, but very private about it. I’m realizing how unfortunate that is. Even some Olympic medallists, I think they could have been really good role models for Martha McCabe.

“This is so important, Martha sharing her story. I don’t know how many women have ever been on the national team and have publicly identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community before. It’s great; it starts a whole different level of conversation, hopefully in places across the country that need it.”

Athlete to Athlete, with Tewksbury, had Thormeyer and Annie Guglia as guests in an episode focussing on “Embracing Who You Are” this past week – Tewksbury’s experience of his own coming out in 1998 makes for a rich thread of awareness and describes why authenticity and “fully embracing who you are” are so important, as confirmed in the world of his guests, too:

  • Read the CBC article for more on Martha McCabe, the process of coming out to family and friends, let lone the world, the importance of “Pride”, the link to Black Lives Matter and the representation of and right to equality of  minorities and why inclusivity is “crucial”.




1 comment

  1. avatar

    Strength! Well done!

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