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Pride in Water chair Josh Devine on 'open' swimming environment

As part of a series of articles to mark Pride Month, Josh Devine, the chair of Pride in the Water, speaks candidly about his work and experiences in aquatics. 

Josh Devine has a simple reason for wanting to share his life experiences within the ‘beautiful environment’ of swimming.

As chair of Pride in the Water, he is spearheading the work of the newly relaunched organisation which plays a crucial role in increasing support, visibility and engagement of the LGBTQ+ community in aquatic sports.

Chair of Pride in Water, Josh Devine, has spoken candidly about his work and experiences in what he describes as a ‘beautiful environment’ within swimming.

He will be spearheading the work of newly relaunched Pride in Water, an organisation that plays a crucial role in increasing support, visibility and engagement of the LGBTQ+ community in aquatic sports.

Josh explains that the difference he encountered in the school and swimming environments was one of the contributing factors behind the work he is now doing, as he says:

“The beautiful thing about swimming is that it’s a very mature sport. It was an open environment but I didn’t have that in school. That’s why I do what I do now: because I want to make sure that the environments young people are in now are safe”

As a youngster, the ‘common thread’ of heterosexuality amongst his peers heavily influenced his decision to come out as gay, as well as the manner in which he did it.

“Personally, for me, I first came out as bisexual because I think there was a part of me telling myself ‘oh I’m not sure’, but I think deep down I knew I was gay.

“In my head, it was easier for my heterosexual friends to accept me as bisexual because there was still that element of ‘oh he still likes girls so it’s okay’.

“There was still that common thread – that’s what went through my head. It wasn’t for another good couple of years that I finally came out as gay because I was then comfortable in myself and I was older. When I was younger, to still fit in and be accepted, ‘I was bisexual’.”

When asked if this was ever an element within his swimming club and environment, he responded: “No, that was more a school environment than a swimming environment.

“From my perspective, because you spend your life half-naked around people of the same and opposite sex, there’s none of that ‘locker room’ talk.

“You have very close friendships with these people, sitting together on poolside and there isn’t that kind of barrier as a young person.”

Personal struggles

Josh spoke candidly about some of the struggles he faced growing up, saying: “I went through a period of depression and self-harm when I was thirteen, trying to accept who I was and feelings I thought I had.

“My parents were really concerned, I would be in this dark spiral of negative thoughts and when I’d come out of that I’d realise that I’d been scratching at the back of my hand the whole time and to this day, I’ve still got scars on my hand.

“I am very lucky to have parents who were so concerned then and supportive to this day of my journey to find and be my authentic self, as well as having amazingly supportive friends within swimming. Sadly, there are still so many individuals who do not have that level of support and acceptance.”

These personal battles, paired with his involvement within the aquatics community have motivated Josh into the work he is doing now.

“The whole point of what we’re [Pride in Water] doing now is by having this visibility in Pride month, and by being there in a very non-threatening way and putting this visibility out there, then young people will know that they’re not alone.

“Now we’ve got people in the sport like Tom [Daley] and Michael [Gunning] who are very out and open about who they are. Just this month there have been a number of articles about Anton Jenkins – the New Zealand diver who has qualified for Tokyo – coming out and speaking publicly about being his authentic self within diving for the first time.

“Yes, amazing things have happened that are changing that landscape, that landscape can always be better.

“I’m very much a believer in, instead of saying ‘are we doing enough to cover ourselves or tick boxes’, my mantra is ‘what more can we do?”, he commented.

Journey in aquatics

His journey into aquatics came first as a competitive swimmer, before turning to lifeguarding and then swimming teaching. Josh then went on to complete his Level 1 Assistant Swimming Coach Course and Level 1 & 2 Diving Coach Courses thanks to winning an Institute of Swimming Competition in 2018, providing him a year’s free courses.

After getting a job in the London Aquatics Centre, his manager and mentor David Jenkins encouraged him to pursue his passions and so he began doing some volunteering work in EDI and safeguarding.

He is now a board member and chairperson of the London Region Diving Committee as well as the communications lead for the Swim England Diving Leadership Group.

You can read more about Pride in Water and the work they are embarking on here.