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Mike Armstrong: Gay and athletic? You can be both!

Mike Armstrong Team Knapp
Mike Armstrong, front row second from left, played second for the Kelly Knapp rink that represented Saskatchewan at the 2023 national men's curling championship.

I have always been an athletic person. As soon as I learned to walk, I was starting to run.

With three older siblings who were all quite athletic, I had no choice but to keep up. And not just keep up, but compete with them! I was a very competitive child, and a big part of that still rings true to this day.

I began playing sports from a young age. Some of the fondest memories from my childhood are playing baseball with my brother, throwing the Frisbee around with my sisters, golfing with my parents, playing shinny with my cousins and playing football with my dad. Sports were all around me. Growing up in the border city of Lloydminster was wonderful as an athlete. A wide variety of sports were available to anyone who lived there and I was fortunate that my parents exposed me to an array of athletic options from a young age.

I started curling at the age of seven. Both of my parents were curlers and were instrumental in getting me on the ice. But it was my mom, who ended up being a ‘Little Rockers’ junior curling instructor for over 20 years, who was the true inspiration to get me started.

As early as elementary school I knew I was gay, but I don’t think I knew exactly what it meant at that age. I remembered just feeling different. As I grew up, I quickly realized that I wasn’t like most other boys. In the locker rooms or in the hallways they would say things or talk about things that I couldn’t relate to or wasn’t interested in. It was through these interactions that I realized how uncomfortable it was for me to be in the locker room with other guys. I couldn’t stand the things that were being said.

I never felt that way at the curling rink. The locker room at the curling rink didn’t have the same toxic language being thrown around. It was safe, sportsmanlike and respectful. This was one aspect of curling that propelled me to continue curling competitively as opposed to playing other sports.

The truth is that, at one point, I nearly quit playing sports all together. Being gay and being an athlete just seemed so at odds with one another. At least that’s the impression I got from my community, the locker rooms and the media in the early 2000s. I was told by many people that I wouldn’t be able to become a teacher because I was gay, so for years I questioned whether that was the right career path for me too.

“If people only knew how impactful words can be, or that phrasing something in a certain way can let a person who is queer know it’s OK to be themselves, it could save so much self-doubt, or possibly even save a person’s life!”

-Mike Armstrong

Fortunately, in my experience, Curling Canada and the curling community in general has been incredibly supportive of 2SLGBTQIA+ athletes and has led the way for many sporting organizations across Canada and the world. I have always found curlers, many of whom come from small towns themselves, to be extremely welcoming, friendly, and open-minded. I consider myself fortunate that I have rarely faced bigotry or discrimination in relation to sport in general, or more particularly in curling.

That doesn’t mean I have been free from discrimination. A few times I have walked past someone at work or on the street who has made a hateful comment, but I don’t want to dwell on that. There are too many amazing people out there who are supportive of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community to focus my time or energy on the vocal minority.

My current curling team, Team Knapp, is absolutely incredible! They have been nothing short of the most supportive and welcoming teammates that I could ask for. Not only are we a tight-knit crew who have become close friends on and off the ice, but from our first competitions together I knew they were OK with me being gay.

I clearly remember being on our first out-of-town bonspiel three years ago and one of my teammates, who I likely knew the least about at that time, began asking me every question about my personal life: how long my boyfriend (now husband) and I had been together, how we met, if we planned to get married, if we wanted to have kids, and so on. Although we barely knew each other, this conversation eased my mind and confirmed that I was supported and loved by my teammates.

It’s gestures and conversations like these that make a queer person quickly realize they’re safe to just be themselves. If people only knew how impactful words can be, or that phrasing something in a certain way can let a person who is queer know it’s OK to be themselves, it could save so much self-doubt, or possibly even save a person’s life!

Fortunately, it’s with this same curling team that I have been able to create some of my most memorable curling experiences. This past winter we were honoured to represent Saskatchewan at the 2023 Brier in London, Ont. To wear the Saskatchewan crest on your back and represent your province is one of the most incredible feelings. The fact I got to do so with some of my best friends made it that much more special. Having our family and friends there to cheer us on in the roar of the arena was a feeling I will never forget.

Mike Armstrong curling

Most sports and sporting organizations still have a long way to go in terms of being fully inclusive and accepting of everyone, regardless of race, gender identity or sexuality. One of the biggest challenges that queer people face is trying to get sporting organizations to realize this, and for them to work with queer advocates to help progress in the right direction.

Allies of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community play such a crucial role in continuing the fight for equality and inclusivity in sport. Queer people can’t move things forward on their own. Fans and athletes who are allies need to continue to be vocal in their support of inclusion. At the same time, you can’t be an ally if the words that you say (even behind closed doors) go against the things that you support and stand up for. It’s important that your words and actions align.

Once I realized that being gay and being an athlete can go hand-in-hand, I was able to flourish into the person that I am today, but it didn’t come easy. It took a lot of self-reflection. What really helped the most was finding my community: the people who supported me, understood me, and built me up to remind me that I could be anything and could achieve anything I set my mind to.

Once I moved to Saskatoon, it didn’t take long to realize that none of my friends cared that I was gay. It’s a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me.

I’m also an athlete, husband, son, brother, teammate, teacher and friend. I just also happen to be gay.

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