Tokyo 2020 athlete comes out with fairytale love story and heartfelt statement about growing up gay in the church
US softball star Haylie McCleney has spoken publicly about her sexuality for the first time as she shares the happy news of her engagement to fiancé Kylee Hanson.
The Team USA athlete revealed she’s been in a relationship with fellow softball player Hanson since they were 17, and their love story reads like a fairytale.
The sporting couple met on their softball team and immediately struck up an inseparable friendship that led to love, much to their surprise.
“We both realised our feelings had taken the next step and yeah, it was crazy because it was so obvious probably to anyone else that OK, you guys are more than friends and it’s amazing that you don’t know that,” McCleney said on the Team USA website.
“Looking back now I was so in love with her. I still am so in love with her. I’m sure it was all the social constraints of, ‘Do I really feel this way?’ and maybe just not allowing yourself to be comfortable with what really is deep attraction and feelings, but over time this was something I couldn’t ignore.
“She makes me so incredibly happy.”
Haylie McCleney grew up in the Southern Baptist church.
Neither had ever dated a woman before, and their strict conservative upbringing meant it would be years before the couple revealed their relationship to friends and family.
McCleney grew up in the small town of Morris, Alabama as a devoted member of the Southern Baptist church, and struggled to reconcile her sexuality and her religion.
“Faith is a big part of my life; always has been, always will be,” she said.
“I kind of got away from it up until the coming out process because I didn’t think I could be gay and be faithful. Now I’m at a point in my life where I’ve accepted myself because God has accepted me, and I feel very strongly about that.”
It’s been a tough journey, but she says she now feels “more loved by God” as a member of the LGBT+ community than she ever did before.
“I think that faith process really helped me have difficult conversations with my family and friends,” she added.
The couple had planned on getting married in February before spending the next few months in training for McCleney to play on Team USA in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Unfortunately those plans had to take a backseat to the coronavirus pandemic, but as with all things McCleney’s taken it in her stride.
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She’s using the opportunity to reach out to people who need to hear stories like hers in the hope that her experience can inspire others.
“I’ve gotten really encouraging messages from people who grew up pretty much the same way I did, asking me what the process was like, was I ever scared, how I handled it,” said McCleney.
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“It’s really cool for me to be able to help out people I think have similar life experiences. A lot of kids who grew up in the south in conservative households are petrified (to come out) and that can drive anxiety, depression and an awful mental state when they don’t have the freedom to be as God created them to be.
“If we can change that at a fundamental grassroots level to let people be who they are, we can make a lot of difference.”