Haylie McCleney (left) is part of Team USA’s Olympic softball team.

Haylie McCleney, who is part of Team USA’s Olympic softball team has come out as gay, and introduced her fiancée, Kylee Hanson, someone she’s known since she was 17.

Haylie proposed to Kylee last year on a Florida beach, and told Team USA: “I completely blacked out; I don’t remember anything I said. But whatever I said worked because she said yes.”

Sadly, due to coronavirus and the Olympics, Haylie and Kylee have had to postpone their wedding. The couple were due to marry in the summer next year, after Haylie had made her Olympic debut, but as the Olympics has been postponed to 2021, the plans now clash.

The couple met when they were 17 and became instant friends. And although neither of them had been with a girl before, they realised their relationship was evolving.

“We both realized our feelings had taken the next step and yeah, it was crazy because it was so obvious probably to anyone else that OK, you guys are more than friends and it’s amazing that you don’t know that,” Haylie explained.

“Looking back now I was so in love with her. I still am so in love with her. I’m sure it was all the social constraints of, ‘Do I really feel this way?’ and maybe just not allowing yourself to be comfortable with what really is deep attraction and feelings, but over time this was something I couldn’t ignore. She makes me so incredibly happy.”

The couple dated for two years, before either one of them came out to their families. Haylie especially worried about the reaction as she came from a conservative area in Morris, Alabama, and had grown up as a member of the Southern Baptist Church.

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Talking about her relationship with religion, Haylie said: “Faith is a big part of my life; always has been, always will be. I kind of got away from it up until the coming out process because I didn’t think I could be gay and be faithful.

“Now I’m at a point in my life where I’ve accepted myself because God has accepted me, and I feel very strongly about that.

“I feel more loved by God now as a member of the LGBTQ community than I ever did before, which is really, really awesome. I think that faith process really helped me have difficult conversations with my family and friends.”

She also addressed the possible backlash to her sexuality, saying: “As human beings it’s our nature, especially as females, to want to please everyone, but we have to come to terms with the fact that what pleases everyone is not necessarily always what is right.

“And to be a leader and an advocate you have to push peoples’ buttons on certain things and certain issues. You have to be vocal about what you believe because you won’t help anyone being on the fence or hiding.

“You help yourself and other people by having conversations, by putting things out there, by leading from the front, by letting people see you let and letting yourself be vulnerable enough to be seen.

“It was a process for me, but I’m at the point now where my life is my life, I’m with the love of my life, I’m living my best life every day with her by my side and love it or hate it, I don’t care because I’m over-the-moon happy.”

She finished by sharing how her coming out has helped other people from similar backgrounds, saying: “I’ve gotten really encouraging messages from people who grew up pretty much the same way I did, asking me what the process was like, was I ever scared, how I handled it.

“There are a lot of people out there that are just so careful of what people think of them and it’s very, very difficult to truly feel like they can unapologetically be themselves.

“For me, I’ve really just lived my life and never expected to be in this position, but it’s really cool for me to be able to help out people I think have similar life experiences.

“A lot of kids who grew up in the south in conservative households are petrified (to come out) and that can drive anxiety, depression and an awful mental state when they don’t have the freedom to be as God created them to be.

“If we can change that at a fundamental grassroots level to let people be who they are, we can make a lot of difference.”

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