THE BLOG

Why Does It Have to Be Gay?

13/08/2013 20:08 BST | Updated 12/10/2013 10:12 BST

You probably haven't heard of the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics association. Known as IGLA for short.

What this organization does is coordinate an annual championship for the world's LGBT aquatics clubs. Swimming, water polo, diving, open water swimming, and synchronized swimming. There are clubs everywhere where gays and lesbians are training and competing and the annual IGLA championships is an opportunity for them to all come together and swim.

Of course it's not the only opportunity for gay and lesbian athletes to compete - gay water polo teams will play in local leagues, swimmers and divers will be entering masters events on a regular basis and most countries welcome men who want to compete in synchro meets.

What makes the annual IGLA championships a bit special is that it's one of the few occasions where LGBT athletes get to compete and socialize with other LGBT athletes.

That may sound a bit separatist or unnecessary - what difference does it make? Why does it have to be gay? In most respects it doesn't make any difference whatsoever. When you play sport you want to do your best - sexuality doesn't come into it. It has more to do with what scientists would describe as 'minority threat syndrome'. At the mainstream competitions and events that LGBT athletes participate in, they are always and inevitably a minority. Whatever country or culture, we will always only ever be a small minority of the population. To be at a competition, doing the sport that you love, where pretty much everyone there is somewhere under the broad LGBT umbrella is incredibly liberating. You still swim the same. The rules and regulations are still the same. But what is different is that you don't have to second guess or edit yourself. It's hard to explain the sensation but it makes perfect sense when you hear LGBT athletes talk about how their performances have improved once they feel confident about being open about their sexuality.

A lot of gay men and lesbians opt out of sport at an early age. Locker rooms and straight sports clubs can be fairly intimidating places when you're trying to work out who you are. The health benefits of participation in sport are fairly obvious, but mental health outcomes are particularly important for gay men (who for a range of complex reasons seem to be more prone to mental health issues). We know that participation in sport will mean longer and happier lives for gay men and lesbians. LGBT sports clubs are important because they encourage gay men and lesbians to get back into sport and participate.

So it is with some excitement that I landed in Seattle to play water polo at IGLA 2013.

My sport is water polo. I normally play with the London Orca team but due to conflicting schedules we weren't able to send a team from London so I've signed up to play with the team from Montreal.

I haven't been to Seattle before so I'm looking forward to discovering a city that I've heard so much about.