Amini Fonua, a New Zealand-born swimmer and Olympian, attends Texas A&M University, which the Princeton Review ranked as the most conservative university and 7th-most unfriendly LGBT campus in America.
Fonua, 23, represented Tonga, his father’s homeland, at the 2012 Olympics and also served as the tiny island-nation’s flag-bearer. He became the first Tongan swimmer to win an international medal after snatching gold in the 50-meter breaststroke at the 2010 Oceania Swimming Championships and last year, Fonua was the Big 12 champion in the 100-meter breaststroke.
However, as “perhaps the only openly gay male athlete at A&M”, Fonua — the school’s former swim team captain — is quick to defend his school against accusations of homophobia, particularly in light of a recent Student Senate bill that would’ve allow students to “opt-out” of funding an LGBT center on campus.
The bill was eventually vetoed by the Student Body President, but Fonua argues that it was not indicative of the school as a whole. “I’m kind of sick of having to try to defend my school to other people, because I think it’s a very small minority,” Fonua told his school newspaper, The Battalion. “Homophobia is at every university, it’s not just A&M. It’s everywhere. It might be a little more prevalent here, but I do think that people will sensationalize how something really is.”
Fonua has been out since his first days on campus, an experience he described in an editorial for Swim Swam:
A conversation with my Team Captain from my freshman year at Texas A&M personify these principles. Seeing no reason to hide, I was open about who I was even as a freshman. A Captain took me aside to speak. He said that if anybody marginalized me because of who I was, he wanted to know about it immediately. Hate is not an Aggie value, and if anything remotely hateful was happening, he promised to end it…There are many successful gay people in our sport. Our sport has thrived because of the open minds that people have.
While he was honored to compete in the Olympics, Fonua regards receiving the Aggie Heart — “given to a teammate who puts the team’s needs above their own and exemplifies leadership and has all the qualities of what it means to be an Aggie” – as his most proud accomplishment. “And to get that as a gay athlete is pretty huge, especially because it’s peer-voted,” he added.
Fonua is currently finishing up his major in senior telecommunications and media studies at A&M, but he has no plans to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero. Rather, he’s made the difficult decision to take a break from swimming.“It’s a huge part of my identity, and that’s what I think a lot of people don’t understand — that when you swim, and you stop for a period of time, you sort of lose a big part and a big piece of who you are,” Fonua said.
“It isn’t everything that I am, but it certainly is a big part of who I am. Much like being gay. Part of who I am, but not everything that I am.”
Since publicly coming out, Fonua continues to garner support, not only from his fellow Aggies, but the world wide webs as well:
Amini Fonua @aminifonua
“Thank you for all your support! I really appreciate all the kind words & lovely tweets. Don’t let anything get in the way of your dreams.”
So apparently I know his little brother who rooms with my friend. THERE’S MY FOOT IN THE DOOR.
THANK YOU AMINI
I saw you in the paper this morning….
Thanks and Gig ‘Em
1. Run away to Brooklyn. Rent an apartment with a claw footed bathtub. Commute to Manhattan during the week and put in hours at a menial publishing job. Drive home to New Jersey on weekends to swim in the pool and cry to your mother. Smoke Gauloises on the fire escape. Let yellowing issues of Rolling Stone and Vogue pile into a protective fortress around your bed. Listen to Cat Power. Fall asleep mostly naked beneath the duvet watching Sportscenter and drinking earl grey. Date a Yankees fan and kiss his hands on the 4 Train into the Bronx.
2. Run away to Barcelona. Eat milk chocolate magnum bars and drink cheap champagne. Burst into charming fits of laughter whenever you get embarrassed about butchering the Catalan language. Wear denim cutoffs, Dr. Pepper chapstick, and very little else. Go dancing at 3 a.m. Whiten your teeth. Tan your shoulders. Braid feathers into your hair. Perpetually wake up with sand caught in the thin cotton sheets of your tiny bed. Listen to the Rolling Stones and kiss all the longhaired boys you can get your hands on without ever having to apologize.
3. Run away to Los Angeles. Sublet a studio in Venice three blocks from the beach. Listen to top 40 radio. Go to Chateau Marmont and charge drinks you can’t afford to a long-dormant credit card. Sleep with a television actor who lives in the valley. Sleep with a musician who lives in Bel Air. Break things off with both of them when gas prices begin to rise. Find Gilda Radner’s star on the Walk Of Fame and swallow a sob when you see the filthy cement around her name is cracked. Walk through the Venice Canals until the sun sets and you forget your own name. Call your mother crying from the parking lot of a 24-hour Ralph’s supermarket. Tell her you want to come home.
4. Run away to Paris. Gaze at the pink and pistachio glow of macarons in the window on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Listen to Joni Mitchell. Meet an Argentinean man in the Latin Quarter for drinks. Melt into his accent and kiss him goodnight, but return to your apartment alone because his face doesn’t look enough like the man’s you are trying to forget. Get lost in the Richelieu Wing of the Louvre, admiring Napoleon’s fine red damask. Walk alone along the Seine in an old dress, ten-dollar shoes, and an Hermes scarf. Fumble with the locks on the fence overlooking the river. They all have lovers’ names etched into them and the girl who left the red heart-shaped lock has the same name as you.
5. Run away to Martha’s Vineyard. Write heartbroken stories during the day in front of a large fan that blows curls of humid hair across your tired face. Take a waitress job at The Black Dog at night and try hard not to drop too many trays. Learn to ride a moped. Pretend you’re a Kennedy. Listen to Carly Simon. Eat hand-churned ice cream out of waffle cones. Visit the flying horses and consider how many girls just like you have sat on the same horse clutching for the same brass ring. Get stoned and dance barefoot down the length of the eroded Jaws beach. Date a Red Sox fan. Yell at each other during baseball games, and then kiss and make up between tangled sheets.