Skip to main content

Home News News World

Out Tongan Olympian Amini Fonua on representing a country where it’s illegal to be gay

By Will Stroude

As well as the 27 world records and 91 Olympic records set, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games were noteworthy for having the highest number of openly LGBT+ athletes competing in the history of the Games.

27-year-old swimmer Amini Fonua was one of them.

As one of the few LGBT+ athletes representing a country where homosexuality is illegal, his participation was particularly significant – as was his brave decision to call out the US news outlet The Daily Beast during the the Games for “endangering people’s lives” after it published potentially identifiable information about closeted athletes.

In Attitude’s Summer issue – available to download and in shops now – Amini, who became the first Tongan swimmer to win a gold medal in an international competition in 2010 and served as Tonga’s flag-bearer at London 2012, discusses his complicated relationship with his him country, and how he hopes he can use his own success to inspire a new generation of gay sporting stars.

“The LGBT+ community has done a good job of excelling in every career,” he says. “Sport is the final frontier for us to conquer.

“We’ve conquered the arts, we’ve conquered fashion, we’ve conquered business. This is the final frontier.”

While Tonga’s track record on LGBT+ rights is never far from his mind, Amini has never let concerns about the supporters back in Tonga interfere with his performance – or with his commitment to the national team.

“Do I feel representing a country that’s not as progressive?” he asks. “No, because I understand the religious context and how it’s tied into the legislation and how something such a gay marriage would be a very [contentious] issue in a place like Tonga.”

The athlete, who was born and raised in New Zealand but remained heavily involved in Tongan culture explains: “It’s a very heteronormative society, and perhaps I resent that.

“But I do resent the fact that it’s anti-gay? No, because my experience growing up has been quite different. But I’ve been very lucky not to have grown up with the awful, sometimes quite destructive side of the Churches.”

He adds: “Growing up… the biggest things you learn are acceptance… and loving and being tolerant of people.

“I guess that’s what I take from my religious experience.”

You can see Amini’s full shoot and interview in the July issue of Attitude – out now. Buy in printsubscribe or download.

More stories:
Sir Roger Moore dies aged 89
8-year-old named among those tragically killed in Manchester terror attack