Texas A&M Gay Swimmer Talks of Acceptance
COLLEGE STATION - Amini Fonua, like many Aggies, was disheartened last semester when he learned a group of student senators wanted to de-fund the university’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Resource Center.
"The first words that went through my head were, ’Oh dear, not again,’ " Fonua said.
Unlike most Aggies, Fonua is an Olympic swimmer, a school record-holder in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200 medley relay and an NCAA All-American. He is also openly gay.
The Eagle reports Fonua has been open about his sexuality to friends, family and teammates for years, but two weeks ago he came out publicly in A&M’s student newspaper, "The Battalion," a few days before he graduated.
Traditionally conservative Texas A&M was thrust into national headlines in March by student senators’ attempts to target the GLBT center. Student body president John Claybrook eventually vetoed the senate’s bill to "stop the bleeding," but damage had already been done, Fonua said.
In a week of intense scrutiny, A&M was cast as an unwelcoming place. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, Fonua said.
"It’s kind of annoying when people are constantly berating your school," Fonua said. "I never once experienced anything homophobic or bad. Either I was lucky or it didn’t really matter."
When pressed, Fonua could only recall one time he felt uncomfortable, but he said that it wasn’t really a big deal. A pro-family organization handed Fonua a pamphlet while he was walking across campus.
"I gave it back to him," Fonua said. "I told him I was gay so it doesn’t make sense for me to pick it up. He said he would pray for me."
Fonua, in response to the student senate vote, wanted to let current students, alumni and prospective students know that A&M was welcoming and that as an openly gay man he had never experienced any hate.
"I wouldn’t really be surprised if kids turned down a spot at A&M because of its GLBT issues," Fonua said. "I see a lot of GLBT kids out there not wanting to come to A&M because of the reputation it has, and I just wanted high school kids to know you can pursue anything you want given you do the hard work and put forth the effort."
The platform for that message was the student newspaper. The May announcement closely followed the coming out of the first active U.S. male professional athlete, the NBA’s Jason Collins, and a similar statement by the WNBA’s No. 1 overall pick, Brittney Griner.
In fact, Fonua didn’t set out to make a statement. He said the genesis of the public coming-out story was that a friend in a creative writing class needed help on a project. Fonua said the other high-profile coming-outs caused him to reflect on his own situation and experiences in College Station, and decide that coming out publicly could help the university he cares about so much.