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Lisa Wainwright profile - LGBT History Month

Swim England News

As part of LGBT History Month, we have profiled a number of people within our sport who have had experiences of being ‘out’ with their identification, and the part their sport has played.

Our first profile is of Swim England Board Member, Lisa Wainwright, who is also the CEO of British Basketball.

Fact File

  • Age: 46 (feeling 96!)
  • Gender: Female
  • Sexual orientation: Lesbian
  • Twitter handle: @LisaWainwright5
  • Role within Swim England: Senior Independent Director Swim England Group Board and IOS Chair
  • Role outside of  Swim England: CEO of British Basketball

What does LGBT History Month mean to you?

For me, LGBT History Month is a reminder of the brave people who have fought homophobia, and as such, allowed me and my family to live our lives as we wish. It is a celebration of what makes us who we are.

Has sport helped you at all with your sexual orientation?

Absolutely, I came out at Sixth Form College when I met my first girlfriend. I was the captain of the netball team and she was captain of the hockey team (never say these sports don’t mix!). But more seriously, at university I was already out and found all the sport clubs very supportive as well as a very supportive LGB Society (as it was in those days).

In my 30 year career in sport, thankfully I’ve had very few incidents of homophobia. I feel sport is very welcoming in relation to this, for women.

What was your experience like coming out in sport?

I recall standing for election as Sabbatical Sports Officer for Warwick University. I was terrified at what some of the traditional male sports clubs may say or do. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Both captains publicly supported me, with the rugby captain stating he knew me as Lisa and that was good enough for him! It taught me that I judged them more than they judged me. I was elected after a routine on stage with the rugby captain in lycra singing and dancing to ‘Let’s get Physical!’.

What was your experience like coming out at work?

In terms of work, I’ve always been out. It’s never a central plank of conversation but if it comes up I am more than happy to talk about it.

Have you had any really great experiences in sport or at work in relation to your sexual orientation?

I’ve had many, I’ve met so many friends and tried to support as many people as possible. Once particular recent experience was when I went to Namibia as part of UK Sports Leading Edge, CEO Leadership Programme. I went to develop a partnership with Namibia Volleyball but whilst I was there I was keen to see if I could help from an LGBT perspective.

I linked with Stonewall, who were excellent in terms of advice. They provided some goodies to give to our friends in Namibia. On the trip, I arranged to meet a couple of gay guys at a ‘gay friendly club’. It was like going back to the 80s but it was wonderful. So much innocence, so much pain, so much hope and still so much for us to fight for. It reminded me of how lucky I am and how much has changed in England – it was a great experience as it grounded me again and brought me back to the real basics of our human rights.

Have you had bad experiences in sport or at work in relation to your sexual orientation?

I think I was the first CEO in sport to come out, and still am, but I can’t say I’ve had any bad experiences. I may have been lucky or just not willing to take it. I’ve had very supportive bosses, both male and female, so this may well be more of the culture of the organisations I’ve worked in. It’s a shame more people in senior positions in sport don’t come out. We are role models. If my being out can help just one person to gain some confidence to do the same, I’m happy. I feel we have a duty – as Harvey Milk did many years ago.

What do you think people could do more of to support other people who are out, or want to come out?

I think we need more education in schools and pre-school. Our daughters’ first words when meeting new friends, are ‘we have two mummys’ – they then turn and out the pair of us and point! We’ve brought them up to know families are different – so much so at a recent Taekwondo session, when the coach said practice this at home with your mummy and daddy. Our four-year-old daughter said she had two mummys instead to the whole class and happily grinned as us!

What message would you like to send to others in the LGBT community?

Enjoy life. Be yourself! Let’s help create a society where we can all live through and celebrate our differences.

Any other thoughts?

Swimming is a wonderful activity to meet new friends, relax, switch off for the day and go out. Our work makes me proud to be a board member of the ASA. I hope we can help other sports tackle any such issues by leading the way.