'I don't know why I was so worried': Ireland Paralympian Katie-George Dunlevy tells her coming out story

LGBTQ+ athletes on the rewarding aspects of being out (1:36)

Out athletes from a variety of sports share their stories on the most unexpected benefits of coming out. (1:36)

Ireland Paralympic champion Katie-George Dunlevy [she/her], 39, won cycling gold and silver medals at both the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games, in the blind tandem events, along with pilot Eve McCrystal.

What was the 'coming out to myself' process like for you?

I came out at the age of 29 and it ended up being positive for me, but until then I was in denial and hiding it for years. It was only until my relationship was serious that I told my family. But everyone has been fantastic, it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and I was able to be who I am. Growing up, my parents never spoke about it, and it wasn't seen on TV or anything that I saw, so I never knew about it. When I was having these feelings when I was a youngster, I didn't know what it was. It was just a very confusing time for me.

Did you have a specific reason for coming out to the media/public, rather than keeping your private life private?

Often, I don't talk about it because it's not relevant, [but] as time goes on, I'm going, 'Actually, if it does give hope to someone out there then I should.' Also, I'm disabled and female, so I have three things: Women in sport, I'm disabled because I'm partially sighted, and I'm out too. I don't talk about it all the time, but I'm not hiding it in now. I'm happy to talk about it, I'm not shouting from the rooftops but I'm not hiding it like I did for so long.

READ: 17 LGBTQ+ athletes share their coming out journeys

Has coming out impacted your career and opportunities at all?

No, it hasn't changed anything in my life. It has just made me happier. It hasn't influenced my career in sport. I'm not the only one out. There are three females in the squad and one of the others is out and has been in a relationship with a woman for years and has been out since she was young. We're actually the majority in the squad.

How has your sport changed with regard to the LGBTQ+ community during your career?

Not so much. Women in football and rugby, [many] are gay or LGBTQ+ but in my sport there are a few cyclists who are, but it has been the same [people] since I joined the squad. It really hasn't changed.

What is the most rewarding, and perhaps unexpected, part of being out?

We're really privileged in this country [Ireland] because you realise you can go around and hold your partners hand and most of the time it is positive. We're really lucky in this country, in other countries you can't do that. And just being able to be myself. This is who I am and really happy about that. That's the best thing about it.

What would your advice be to folks who are struggling with their identity?

I would talk to other people and find a group you could join, a social group or a charity or helpline or someone to talk it through. Meet likeminded people. Don't hide it, don't hold it into yourself, even if you're not sure about it yourself. That's what I would say to my younger self, instead of keeping it in and getting on with life. It is probably not doing you good inside.

When debating coming out in your mind, what were your worst - and best - case scenarios? And did either come to pass?

I don't know why I was so worried about it. I think I was worrying in case I wasn't right about it for some reason. I don't know. It's a difficult one. I don't know why I didn't tell them [family] about it, because I thought they would be fine about it. I was in denial a bit, really. It has been really positive.

Did you ever feel any pressure, either internally or from speculating fans, to be a role model or an ambassador for the queer community? And is that something you embrace now?

I haven't been approached to be [an ambassador]. It's only recently I've been mentioned as a sportswoman in the LGBTQ+ community. It was only just before Tokyo that [people] were tagging me on stuff on Twitter. I don't feel the pressure but I don't mind it either, in any way.