As we continue to celebrate LGBT History month throughout February we spoke to Clare Rutter. #ShePaddles Ambassador for Canoe Wales, Clare shares her experiences of the topic both in life and in paddlesport.
Committed to challenging perceptions of things women can, can't, should or shouldn't do, Clare believes that by standing strong, being an enthusiastic voice, a supporter, promoter and motivator, we can all be opinion shifters.
What are your thoughts on LGBTQ month?
It's a really important time in the LGBTQ+ calendar. There has been a long and difficult battle for those who identify as LGBTQ+ to literally have the right to be who they want to be and live how they want to live. So many have been and often still are excluded, outed, bullied, harassed, tortured, injured and killed simply due to their identity. Who has the right to tell anyone how to live their lives? Nobody!
I grew up in a pretty Christian family and never actually knew about gay people until the passing of Freddie Mercury in 1991 when I had just turned eleven. In all honesty I never actually knew I was gay - I had to be told! Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s it was very rarely spoken about and was an incredible taboo. So, in my case, I was 26 before I realised and everyone knew but me! It all seemed so obvious after that.
What has been your experience of being LGBTQ+ in the paddling and outdoor activities world?
For me, I've always been quite a tomboy having been raised in the countryside (with lots of mud and dirt!) and involved in the Guides and Scout organisations. I wouldn't say that my experiences haven’t been any different based on how I identify - I just did, and do, what I love doing!
What I have noticed though, is that those who identify as LGBTQ+ seem really comfortable talking to me and appear more at ease, possibly because they feel that they 'fit in'. If that identification and relatable aspect aids participation from the LGBTQ+ community, then that's great and I'm happy to be a part of that!
In terms of paddlesport - we need to show that we welcome all no matter who they are or what they look like from recreational paddling through to the elite competitive paddlers. Ultimately, whoever we are, we all breathe the same air, we all have blood running through our veins, we're all different shapes and sizes with different morals, values and beliefs and more.
Paddling could benefit from more realistic portrayals of paddlers, products and events that represent a broad spectrum of society including LGBTQ+ persons. I think it would be beneficial having LGBTQ+ champions, reps or points of contact in each club to aid that welcoming image, message and process of participation. Specific LGBTQ+ panels at NGB level would also help ensure that this was done, and ultimately, help drive normalised, inclusive paddling forwards.
Has being LGBTQ+ changed people’s attitudes or perceptions of you?
At the end of the day, I'm just a regular, everyday person and paddler, whether me being LGBTQ+ has changed people’s attitudes or perceptions of me, positively or negatively is up to them.
What would you say to anyone worried about coming out as LGBTQ+?
I would say just be true to yourself. It's your life and you 100% get to choose how you live it. Those who deserve to be in your life will stay, respect and support you for it. I would question anyone else’s position and contribution to your life in the first place. Some people just need a bit of time to get used to the idea for themselves, we all make assumptions and have our own way of processing things, we're only human!
Who would you say are your role models in life?
I try to be my own role model, I have a good heart and I'm determined to be the best I can be. My biggest role model is my best mate Neil who unfortunately passed away three years ago. He always encouraged me when I was feeling down or was lacking confidence so whenever I have trouble with thoughts or decisions I ask myself "What would Neil say?," and that brings me through!
What has been the highlight of your paddling career to date? Hands down, becoming the British Canoeing #ShePaddles Ambassador for Canoe Wales. I'm having so much fun with it!
I'm paddling some amazing waters, meeting fantastic people and extending networks. I’ve done things I've never done before and really pushed my own boundaries increasing my own self confidence and self belief. It's great being able to use my experience, values, ideas and passion for developing paddlesport for the benefit of others.
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