Swim England

A nation swimming

It’ll be great when we don’t have to shout about Pride ... but it’s important we still do

Swim England head of membership development Gaby Hay explains what Pride month means to her personally and the importance of shining a spotlight on the LGBTQ+ community.

Gaby has been a part of the Swim England team for almost three years – but has worked for various sporting organisations throughout her career.

She has extensive experience having held roles at the Lawn Tennis Association, Youth Sport Trust and British Triathlon before moving to Swim England.

As the head of membership development, Gaby’s role is to ensure Swim England provides engaging opportunities that will maximise the number of people who want to get involved in aquatic sports.

Here, Gaby shares her thoughts on why it’s important to be proud of who you are.

How have your experiences had an impact on your career?

I knew I was gay when I was about 16 or 17 but I felt so much shame around it because no one else was.

I told my friends and it was really hard as I felt judged – I think it had a big impact without me realising.

Early on in my career, the environment was quite stereotypical, heterosexual male and there weren’t necessarily many role models. I couldn’t be fully myself but I do think it was just a sign of the times.

I then moved to the Youth Sport Trust. That was actually the first time I could really be myself at work because it was so culturally people-driven.

I was still a bit funny about admitting it to people but that may have been my own insecurities more than anything else.

At the time, I was a programme manager before moving on to lead the membership programme at British Triathlon.

Because of my experiences at YST, I really felt I could be open and honest – it was a nice feeling.

If you’re not truly authentic with yourself, you probably aren’t going to bring your best self to work.

I’ve only felt comfortable that way in the last five years. I’d say it is the role models that have helped me do that.

Since I’ve joined Swim England I’ve never felt judged for my sexuality.

I’m not sure there are a lot of (LGBTQ+) role models but I’d like to be one of the people that says ‘it is okay to be gay and it is okay to be open and honest’.

I think now, particularly with women in a sporting context, it is so acceptable.

It has probably given me the biggest opportunity to be myself, working in sport.

You mentioned the importance of role models, are there any particular ones that stand out to you?

Billie Jean King is an absolute idol of mine.

For someone from her generation to fight for what she believes in for so long is immense.

She has paved the way for women’s sport and we wouldn’t be where we are today without her.

Within aquatics and on the men’s side, Tom Daley is trailblazing. It would be amazing if other sports could follow that.

I do think there is a thing of stereotyping, though. It is great to have role models who are all different, different backgrounds and different types of people so everyone feels that they can see themselves in those people.

Why is it important to be ‘proud’ and why do events like Pride month matter?

I don’t think you need to be defined by sexuality, but you do need to be proud of it so other people feel they can be themselves.

If you’ve got the platform to be able to be open, then you’re creating more opportunities for other people to see themselves. I feel passionate about that.

It is also important to say that everyone can support it, not just gay people. Events like Pride month create the environment for that. 

What are your aspirations for the future?

I would love to continue to work in sport and be a senior leader in an organisation that really matters to me where I can hopefully inspire others to bring their whole selves to work and make sure the culture enables that.

I don’t like to think too far ahead but I’d like to take my learnings forward and see what I can do at that leadership level.

Ultimately, I believe it is about people. If people feel connected and engaged they’ll do their very best.

Are there any key messages that you’d like to share?

I think the day we don’t have to shout about Pride will be great but it is still really important that we do – that we celebrate it.

It is amazing how far we’ve come as a country – I’m really keen to celebrate it.

I’m really proud to be gay, to be open and honest about it and, hopefully, to inspire people to bring their whole selves to work as I definitely haven’t done in the past.