For most people September is just another month, but for the LQBTQI+ community it’s extra special, as it rings in Hamilton Pride Week (September 8-16). The aim of Pride Week is to build and develop positive relationships within the community, promote pride, celebrate diversity and bring public attention to social, legal and health issues that the LGBTIQ+ community faces.

For me personally, Pride Week is a chance for me to promote inclusiveness, support and acceptance for all gay people, especially our youth, and especially in the sporting and exercise arena.

Recently I was approached by Thomas Nabbs, founder of The Waterboy. For those of you unfamiliar with the organisation, check it out on Facebook, because what it does is so important and inspirational.

A non-profit organisation, The Waterboy aims to create initiatives to increase participation in sport, by breaking down barriers of entry to sports for New Zealanders – such as financial or socio-economic status, disability, gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

Thomas asked me to get involved in a few upcoming projects, including a speaker series addressing Homophobia in Sport. All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow and rowing champion Robbie Manson have headed this campaign, visiting schools in Hamilton with the goal of acknowledging the effect of homophobia, and trying to eliminate it from school and sports.

This got me thinking; I’m proud of who I am, I’m proud to be gay, and I want to be a role model. So how else can I help? How else can I raise awareness – and I though the best place to start is to tell my story.

If you had told me when I was a younger that I would become a personal trainer, I would have laughed. I didn’t spend my youth as a member of First XV – in fact to this day I still haven’t played a game of rugby. I was the kid who sat at the back of the field avoiding getting my next hiding from the high school jocks.

Growing up in a small town as an extroverted feminine boy doesn’t exactly go down well. My first memories of school are of being bullied – of being called a fag, homo, queer etc. I was completely unaware and certainly too young to have a sexual preference, but because I was different, I was segregated and ostracised.

I was always an active kid. I loved cross country, swimming etc, but when it came to team sports I was shunned. I always got picked last, and was never given a chance to really participate. After a while I just gave up. It seemed easier to sit in the corner than try to fit in.

I still remember to this day, during my first week at high school one of the students saying; “Miss, I don’t want the faggot on my team”. This instantly created a bad relationship for me with sport and exercise. I saw it in such a negative context that I completely gave up all physical activity. Unfortunately, I don’t think these kids realise the affect their bullying and homophobia had on me, and its long-term affect.

Fast forward 10 years. I joined Les Mills Hamilton, hired a personal trainer and started to find a true passion for exercise. I auditioned to become a group fitness instructor and for once, being an extroverted feminine male was being celebrated. I then realised how empowering exercise was, and how powerful exercise was at boosting my confidence and self-esteem, which started my journey to becoming a personal trainer.

I was nervous about becoming a trainer, because I didn’t know if I’d be accepted. I didn’t know of any openly gay personal trainers and I didn’t have anyone to look up to or give me confidence that it would be okay. I just had to have blind faith that it would all work out – and it has.

I’ve worked in many different jobs and the fitness industry has by far been the most open, accepting and supportive group of people I’ve encountered. Everyone knows I’m gay and no one seems to really care. If they do, then they’ve been polite enough to hide it.

The one thing I tell people is that my sexuality does not define me. Yes, I’m gay – but that’s not all I am. Don’t judge me (or others) by sexuality. Judge me on my work ethic, my morals, my values and my character. That’s what’s important. That’s who I am.

On top of the great work The Waterboy is doing, I have also recently become involved as a volunteer and soon to be Youth Mentor with another great organisation, WaQuY (Waikato Queer Youth). Waquy offers a safe space for all youth, whether they identify or don’t identify as queer. The volunteer Youth Mentors facilitate the group and make sure it’s a place where everyone can be open and feel accepted.

I truly am proud to be a personal trainer, proud to be an openly gay personal trainer and proud of how accepting the fitness industry has been. What I’m not proud of is the exclusion our youth still face when it comes to sport.

Prejudice is learnt, we’re not born with it. So, the next time an All Black misses the ball and you call him a fag or say “that’s gay”, remember you are teaching our younger generation that it’s okay to be homophobic and use homophobic slurs. Just so we are clear – it’s not okay.

For more information on Hamilton Pride Week head to www.facebook.com/HamiltonPrideNZ/ or www.hamiltonpride.co.nz/