• ENGSO Youth

Interview with Kim Meylemans

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

“My coming out wasn’t so much about me being into girls but more about understanding I had a chance to be part of something bigger by speaking up.”

Luca Arfini, a young communications professional from Italy, started a series of interviews on the coming-out stories of a few LGBTI young professional athletes on the occasion of this year’s Pride Month. Today's interview is with the 24-year-old Kim Meylemans, the first Belgian Skeleton Athlete ever to compete at the Olympics.

1. What is the importance of sports in your life?

First of all, sport is my job. As a pro athlete, I’m lucky enough to be able to focus 100% on my sports performance. I train a minimum of 7 times a week in 11 out of 12 months a year. Skeleton is my passion and going for medals the driving force for all the hours in the gym. But besides that, playing sport has always been an important part of my life, I can’t remember ever not being involved in sport. Soccer was my first love but I’ve always liked to try out different sports as well, up to the 14th birthday I had played club volleyball, tennis, was in a swim club and gave judo a try until finally falling in love with Skeleton and focusing myself on this path. All that to say, I couldn’t imagine a life without sports.

2. When and why did you decide to come out of the closet?

I came out to my parents and friends when I had my first girlfriend (19 years old) but I have never really had a big coming out in my sports environment. I have always been just myself and open about the fact that I had a girlfriend. Some people asked questions, but for most people, nothing had changed. As I grew older, I started to get more involved with the LGBTI community and, as I started to compete on a higher level, I felt I had to use the world stage I got to speak up for the LGBTI community. In a way, I think my coming out wasn’t so much about me being into girls but more about understanding I had a chance to be part of something bigger by speaking up. I would have never hidden my sexuality but, probably, I wouldn’t have spoken so openly about it and dealt with the struggles that came with it, if I wouldn’t have thought this could have helped other LGBTI youth.

3. What are the main challenges that LGBTI professional athletes could face during their careers?

Professional athletes need sponsorships to be able to compete and financially keep their heads over water. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of cases where athletes got dropped by companies or denied sponsorships when they came out. Personally, I have never had to deal with issues like this. One of the biggest challenges for me is having to go and compete in countries that might not support “people like me” or even worse countries that actually have anti-gay laws in place. I was too young to qualify for Olympics, but it would have been incredibly tough for me to compete in the place where I would not feel safe, even if it would be Olympic games.

4. Do you think the sports environment has become more inclusive for the LGBTI community over the years? Why?

I think the sports environment as a whole is a very inclusive community and I think athletes are often open-minded people. As I said before I’ve never experienced anything but acceptance and respect with my competitors and I think the same goes for most sports. However, I do believe we still have a long way to go in a lot of sports and a lot of countries. For example, when we look at the actual numbers of open LGBTI athletes at the Olympics or in professional soccer then I think it seems obvious that we’re far from a fully inclusive environment.

5. How can sport contribute to foster integration and equality in the younger generations?

Sport can be the perfect starting point in educating people, getting rid of prejudgments, and connecting people that would never have met in the first place. The key to a good sports performance is to create a welcoming and open atmosphere in which any kind of discrimination is never tolerated. If we succeed in creating a sports environment in which kids get told from a young age that discrimination of any form will never be tolerated, we will create a welcoming society, and this in itself will help LGBTI youth to grow up to be whatever they want to be.

6. What would be your advice to the LGBTI youth (based on your experience)?

Just be yourself. Be kind, be sympathetic but be yourself. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable people around you will be/react. Be proud of who you are and give people a chance to see your true colors before getting defensive. Don’t get mad at people that don’t understand, try to educate them, and if they won’t listen, just keep doing YOUR things. You’ll find your tribe!

7. According to you, what is the future of the new generations of LGBTI people in sport?

The future is bright!