Martha McCabe came out to help other LGBTQ+ swimmers.

Canadian swimmer Martha McCabe, who competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, has come out as a lesbian in order to help other LGBTQ+ swimmers accept their identity.

Speaking to CBC, she said she had at least ten teammates who identified as LGBTQ+ when she competed for the Canadian national team, and that there were probably 30 to 40 LGBTQ+ swimmers when she competed at a university level.

However, all of the openly LGBTQ+ swimmers she knew of were all men, giving her no role model as a female LGBTQ+ athlete. “For me, swimming was the world,” she explained. “Sure, I probably knew a couple of lesbians outside of swimming, but I was barely paying attention to my life outside of swimming.

“The people I looked up to were in swimming. The people I was constantly surrounded by and giving my full attention to were in swimming. I think if there was an out lesbian within that circle, someone I could have potentially looked up to, it would have been normalised a little bit more.”

She added: “I think because there haven’t really been any superstars in the sport publicly come out as lesbian and advocate for women in the LGBTQ+ space, it makes it more challenging to realise these things about yourself.”

Martha then said that she hoped she could be this role model for young LGBTQ+ female athletes, saying: “I want to be an example to young female swimmers and help ones who are struggling with this, so they can see it’s normal. Parents also need to recognise that this needs to be normalised. Kids don’t see this everywhere, and when you don’t see it, it becomes this hurdle you have to get over.

“I think because I didn’t see it in people I looked up to, the thought never crossed my mind. I didn’t question the norms society had built around me because I didn’t even realise there was something to question.”

She continued, saying: “Young people need to be able to see themselves in the people they look up to. We need minority voices from different races, sexualities, gender identities, etc. — people bold enough to speak out, to share and to be themselves publicly so that younger generations can see they are not alone, and that you can be successful despite your differences.”

The month of June saw several high-profile athletes come out, including former English professional footballer Thomas Beattie, and these helped Martha come to terms with publicly coming out. “Seeing more and more high-profile athletes speak about the importance of coming out publicly throughout Pride Month made me realize that even though my experience has been pretty seamless, it is not the case for many young people,” she explained.

“These young people need role models both for themselves and for the people around them to see that if you’re currently not accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, you need to further educate yourself, make sure you understand the meaning behind your words and the way you support others.”

She was praised by former Canadian swimmer Mark Tewkesbury, who identifies as gay, who said: “Obviously Martha is not the first one. I even know of women who were members of the community, but very private about it.

“I’m realising how unfortunate that is. Even some Olympic medallists, I think they could have been really good role models for Martha.

“This is so important, Martha sharing her story. I don’t know how many women have ever been on the national team and have publicly identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community before. It’s great; it starts a whole different level of conversation, hopefully in places across the country that need it.”

Related: Here are all the celebrities who’ve come out as LGBTQ+ in 2020 (so far)