Swim England

A nation swimming

Omie Dale on how 'vital' LGBTQ+ organisations are within aquatics

As part of a series of articles to mark Pride Month, swimming teacher and communications expert Omie Dale speaks to us about her work in aquatics and how ‘vital’ organisations such as Pride in Water and the Black Swimming Association are. 

As a passionate swimming teacher and communications expert, Omie Dale is working towards a more inclusive environment within aquatics.

She first became involved with Pride in Water late last year and says that was ‘really be chance’. “I read about them in a newsletter and signed up pretty much straight away!,” she said.

As an existing member of the Black Swimming Association, her work – in her own words – revolves around ‘diversity in swimming and tackling the barriers for people participating in the sport’.

Speaking on the work that both organisations do, and whether there is an element of cross-over between them, she said: “In a way, yes.

“Both organisations are looking at the barriers to access swimming for particular groups, and also the environment of swimming pools, clubs, competitions etc.

“With many things in life, there’s often overlap, and many people will have their experience of being involved in aquatics – and life more generally – impacted by both their race and being part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

As part of her work, she conceptualised a project in 2018 called ‘If 71% of the world is water, how can we feel at home if we don’t know how to swim?’, which aimed to ‘explore who could access leisure centres and swimming pools as a community space, and who were unable to’.

Omie explained what inspired her to undertake the project.

“It largely came from (many long) hours lifeguarding at various swimming pools,” she said. “Despite working in extremely diverse areas, I was struck by how this wasn’t reflected in the patrons of the pool.

“As a child swimming, I also didn’t feel reflected or represented in the aquatics world and so wanted to explore this concept.

“The project mainly involved surveys and interviews, but also teaching adult non-swimmers for free and, in turn, collecting stories about their relationship with the water.

“I also reached out to, and interviewed, a variety of people and organisations who work to make swimming more inclusive for different groups of people.

“The findings confirmed some of what I already assumed but also brought up some new factors into why people may not necessarily have a positive relationship with the water, such as due to bad past experiences as a child (often during school swimming lessons), not being able to find swim gear – particularly caps – that fit them, and also due to the idea of changing rooms and the very fact of having to be very vulnerable and open in a swimming costume or trunks around lots of strangers.”

‘These groups are vital’

Omie spoke candidly about her own personal experiences within aquatics, explaining that she ‘didn’t feel reflected or represented in the aquatics world as a child’.

Tying in with Pride Month and the numerous organisations, clubs and advisory bodies –- such as Pride in Water – that are aiming to increase visibility and support of the LGBTQ+ communities, Omie said she believes ‘these groups are vital’.

“These groups – both in aquatics and beyond – are really vital for a number of LGBTQ+ people who have never felt truly represented in the sport or haven’t been involved with it in the past,” she said.

Omie’s longstanding history within swimming and aquatics more broadly has ‘without a doubt’ influenced the work she is doing today to try and progress and improve the sport.

She said: “Swimming is my main discipline and it’s something that’s been a part of my life since a young age.

“I swam until I was 16 and then became a lifeguard. A few years later I became a swimming teacher and it was a job I immediately fell in love with.

“I realised the true value of teaching people a life skill, building a rapport with them and despite being only one small part of their very busy life, assisting with and witnessing their development both physically and mentally.”

When asked how she would like to see the aquatics community progressing in terms of visibility and diversity without our sports, Omie said: “I think the conversations are happening now, which is great – but conversation is pointless without action to follow.

“There are a number of grassroots organisations and interest groups in the aquatics industry, who have a good understanding of the issues on the ground, who need to be amplified and supported by the larger bodies within the aquatics industry.”

You can find out more about Omie and her work by visiting her website here.