For Australia’s lone openly gay Olympian, being able to play on the international stage in Rio as an out athlete was a mission accomplished.
“Being an ‘out’ athlete at the Olympics is an important opportunity to live my truth while competing at the highest level in sport,” said Michelle Heyman, who plays for Australia’s women’s soccer team, the Matildas.
“It means everything to be representing Australia at the Olympics. Being ‘out’ is just the norm to me. I don’t see myself being any different from any other athlete. I’m very proud to be me and I’m hoping to just make a positive change towards the LGBT community.”
The 28-year old striker from Shellharbour, New South Wales, made her Olympic debut for the Matildas against Canada in the opening group game and carried her efforts throughout the tournament, being the top goal scorer for Australia.
“It’s been a dream,” she said. “I’ve wanted this all of my life and I’m finally living my dream,” she said.
There were reports that the Brazilian crowd had been taunting female soccer players with homophobic slurs, but the slurs didn’t even register with Heyman nor did the allegations dent her game or disrupt her focus.
“Brazilian supporters have been nothing but supportive towards us,” she said. “We are very lucky to be playing the game we love in the birth place of football.
“I definitely haven’t felt any negative attitudes towards us at any point. The crowd always seem quite friendly and have wanted photos and signatures afterwards so that’s always a good thing.”
Unfortunately, the Matildas’ quest for gold came at the expense of Brazil in a crippling quarterfinal loss where they were defeated in a penalty shootout (7-6).
For someone who provides so much hope and inspiration to others in the LGBT community and beyond, Heyman draws her own spur and motivation from teammates, Lydia Lassila — an Australian freestyle Olympics skier — and Ellen DeGeneres.
“On the field I look up to my fellow teammates. They’re the ones I train with everyday and are helping myself become a better footballer,” Heyman said.
“Lydia spoke with us on our prep to our qualifiers, and she inspired me so much. The one thing that will always stick with me is that she wanted to be better than the boys and I was the same with my sport. She is winning, with a winning attitude. Everything you need to be the best.
“Outside of sport, Ellen DeGeneres is my idol. Ellen is by far the most inspirational woman I look up to. Everything about her is brilliant. She looks at the world with such a positive outlook. She’s had her struggles and ended up on top and that’s very empowering!” said Heyman.
Looking ahead, Heyman is optimistic about her future, the ending of homophobia in sport, and has a bright outlook for LGBT athletes.
“I see that the world is changing … for a positive towards the LGBT community,” she said. “I’ve never been the victim of homophobia and I’ve never lost any support or sponsors since coming out.
“I hope that being true to myself will help other athletes be true if they wish to be out. They shouldn’t think they’re alone.”
© 2016 Outsports | This article was written by Jake Smith and first appeared on the Outsports website on 22 August 2016