Michelle Heyman: What Pride Means To Me

Michelle Heyman has represented Australia 61 times and is currently starring for W-League side Canberra United. She was the only openly gay Australian athlete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

By Michelle Heyman

Pride and the Sydney Mardi Gras are so important to me.

They’re all about being yourself. Celebrating being who you are.

Unashamedly. Loud. Proud.

That’s how I live my life. I want to be my true self.

Pride is an opportunity to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the struggle of the people who have come before us and who did so much work for LGBTQIA+ rights and equality.

Times are changing - and for the better.

When I turn on the TV I see LGBTQIA+ shows. LGBTQIA+ characters. And LGBTQIA+ storylines.

In sport, there are so many strong and empowering LGBTQIA+ athletes, especially in women’s sport.

But there is still so much more to do.

My Journey

I was one of the lucky ones. When I told my parents I was gay, they accepted it immediately as just part of who I am. There wasn’t disappointment, anger or confusion.

And that comes from a sense of self they helped instill in me from a young age. I was being myself and they couldn’t be more supportive.

When I told my friends at school, they accepted me. My best friend in high school told me at the same time I told her. And it wasn’t a big thing. It was just who we are and we went on with our day.

But not everyone in Australia, and especially in other countries around the world, is quite so lucky to have the acceptance and support I found.

Like so many who have come before me, there are still so many LGBTQIA+ people who suffer because of how they identify. Because they are being their true self.

Breaking the Macho Stigma

I think specifically of the challenges men in sport face with coming out.

It’s a macho thing. There’s still this weird stigma around it.

But there’s no reason why you can’t be the tough, macho guy on the field and like the same sex off the field.

The fact we don’t see the same LGBTQIA+ role models in male sport is sad.

These men are forced to hide something so vital to them as a person because they feel like their industry will reject them.

When my good friend Dan Palmer announced he was gay, it was so pleasing to see the overwhelming support he received. I know he was humbled by that support.

We need to work towards that becoming the norm, especially in male sport.

Becoming a Voice

Being able to be a voice and use the platform I have as a professional soccer player to help and support the next generation, not just LGBTQIA+ kids, but everyone, to be who they are is so important to me.

I understand how lucky I am to be able to have a voice and to use that voice for good.

I didn’t have many gay role models growing up, so for me to be in the public eye out on the pitch for Canberra United being proud to be a gay woman, I think can have some real power for any kid - or adult - who isn’t quite comfortable being themselves because they feel different.

The only way you can be the best version of yourself is by being true to who you are.

I’ve had friends who have hidden their sexuality for years and when they finally come out, it’s just such a huge relief.

They finally are able to be their true selves.

The more athletes, celebrities and people in the public eye who are able to be true to themselves, the easier it becomes for every Australians to celebrate being true to themselves.

Unashamedly. Loud. Proud.

Michelle Heyman is available through Pickstar to speak to businesses, schools and clubs about gender equality and LGBTQIA+ issues, and to work with brands for brand ambassadorships and social campaigns.

She has also recently launched a women's football program called Heyman FC.

Pickstar has thousands of sports stars and celebrities available to book for guest speaking, brand ambassadorships and more.