Scuba Diving is the passion millions of people around the globe. All with one thing in common, a love of the underwater world.
In today’s society, health, fitness and wellbeing plays an important part in daily life for many people. Sport, in particular recreational sport, being an outlet for stress and improving mental health. As divers we experience calm and serenity every time we descend beneath the surface and is one of the factors which keeps us coming back for more.
Hand in hand with health and wellbeing is diversity and inclusion. Part of being in a healthy state of mind is being comfortable in your surroundings and being accepted for who you are regardless of gender, race, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation. Many business and sporting organisations are now looking at how they can attract more people into sport from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities.
The average percentage of the global population identifying as LGBTQ+ is 2.2%. This would suggest there is the same percentage of divers worldwide who identify as LGBTQ+.
It’s not about how you identify; it’s about seeing sport and sporting environments as ‘safe spaces’ and somewhere to feel comfortable and at ease. The dive boat is one of those places. People from a diverse range of back grounds and nationalities gather daily on dive boats around the world without judgement or second though of what someone’s sexual preference may be.
PADI Diving Instructor, Heather McCloskey, still considers completing her PADI Open Water Diver course as her most exhilarating experience. She shares, “It marked the end of a time period where my anxiety and stress levels controlled me, not the other way around. It was a very stressful time in my life where I felt that few things were under my control. When I discovered how quiet and peaceful it is as soon as you leave the surface, I was hooked.”
“It was such a moving and empowering experience for me that I immediately knew I wanted to become an instructor and spend the rest of my life bringing this joy and freedom to others,” McCloskey, a member of the LGBTQ+ continues. “Everyone can benefit from scuba diving in some way and it’s so rewarding to be able to give people that gift. Diving is an incredible opportunity to not only see some really cool things and travel to some amazing places but also be exposed to folks of all walks of life. Few sports bring together people with as broad an array of life experience, cultures, mindsets, and geographies the way diving does.”
To attract new divers from the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important that dive centres and operators continue to be open-minded and inclusive. Throughout life, people will try as many as nine different sports before they decide on which one provides them with the most enjoyment and best fits their lifestyle.
How people choose their sport, whether this be professional or recreational, is often down to how included they feel participating in that sport and what role models are visible to them. This principle is often referred to as the mirror effect, ‘can I see someone like me in the sport’, ‘does the sport portray itself as open and inclusive’. This is not unique to the LGBTQ+ community and applies to everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, age or disability.
PADI Divemaster, Bruce Pearson is openly gay and assists with the pool sessions at his local dive shop. “The husband and wife who own the dive shop are very welcoming and comfortable with me being ‘out’ as a gay man in the workplace. The husband even commented that he’s learned a lot from being around me, which I’m grateful that I can provide a positive image to him and others and show others we are all equal and similar as humans. Being a positive LGBTQ+ role model is important as often I am one of the first people that new divers meet when embarking on their education. It would be great to think that I have a positive influence on their life journey as well.”
“I would recommend any LGBTQ+ person getting into diving to try and find a shop that’s open and welcoming, and if possible, check any local groups/social media for any recommendations they’ve had positive or negative.”
Club activity is a proven way to engage new and certified divers and provide an environment for continuing education. In the UK, the Gay and Lesbian Underwater Group (GLUG) was founded to deliver a safe, friendly, inclusive and supportive environment for all LGBTQ+ divers, their partners, family and friends. They organise dive trips in both the UK and Europe as well as hold social and educational events.
Chairman of the GLUG committee, Mark Vowels quotes the club philosophy as “Aiming to eradicate the ‘macho’ image associated with diving and provide dive trips and events which encourage members to improve their dive skills at their own pace. GLUG strives to meet the needs of our less-able or physically challenged members, whilst always ensuring their safety and that of other divers.”
Barnacle Busters is an LGBTQ+ diving club based in Los Angeles, California, USA since 1989. Founding member R.A. Buck recalls the first club meeting was well attended by sixty people with a mix of men and women, some certified and others just interested in learning to dive. Since then, they have certified over 1000 LGBTQ+ divers.
For R.A. Buck himself, within two months of the first club meeting, aged 45, he was having so much fun and felt so comfortable in his surrounding that he felt it was time to come out to friends and family. “The dive club changed my life profoundly, and for the better.”
Travel is synonymous with diving and is the perfect way to experience what our plant has to offer. Greg Hamman, owner of LGBTQ+ dive travel company, Undersea Expeditions, saw potential in the LGBTQ+ market and organises LGBTQ+ vacations around the world is places such as the Philippines, Australia, Europe, Egypt, Caribbean and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. “Our divers trust us to take them to the best locations at the right time of year, and to use the best dive operations available. They can count on a fun, accepting group of like-minded LGBTQ+ divers and our friends. People who share our values and our sense of humour.”
“Most of our divers are gay men in their 30s to 50s, usually about 60% of them traveling solo. Many lesbian divers also enjoy traveling with us, either in a mixed LGBTQ+ group or on one of our twice a year For Women Only vacations. Of course, trans, bi, and queer divers are all welcome as well, as well as allied friends,” says Hamman.
There are however some countries with incredible dive sites that still do not recognise same sex relationships. One such country is Egypt, which is home to the diving mecca that is the Red Sea. Attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in Egypt have not been in line with their western counterparts with many choosing not to travel there.
In the tourist areas of Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Marsa Alam and Hurghada, it is a brighter picture. LGBTQ+ divers can enjoy mesmerising marine life and historic wrecks in a safe environment. Liveaboards are a popular choice, however there are many dive centres operating out of popular hotels that are equally as welcoming. My husband and I are halfway through our PADI Divemaster course with PADI Instructor, Abdo Elhabashy of Master Diving Centre in Hurghada. We have completed several PADI specialties with Abdo and had many fun and enjoyable times with the local boat crews who treat everyone the same.
As with any travel, it is advisable to remain cautious and have respect for local customs.
Being visible and promoting the all-round benefits of diving is an essential tool in recruiting new divers. Doug McGrath explains his experience of finding his LGBTQ+ diving community, “I didn’t know LGBTQ+ dive clubs existed until I walked by the Northern California Rainbow Divers stall at Gay Pride. Being part of a club wasn’t something I had ever thought about, but I signed up on the spot.”
“New friends, dive buddies, trips, learning from others… I got all of those things from the club experience, but at the time, I don’t think I could’ve articulated why I was so excited to stumble across them,” adds McGrath. “As it turned out, joining the club was the push that I needed to get certified. Instead of just thinking about what diving might be like and wondering how difficult it was to learn and do, suddenly I had these connections and resources that took a lot of the mystery out of the process.”
In the USA, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Pride Outside combine the celebration of Ocean month and LGBTQ+ Pride month throughout June with the #PrideInTheOcean campaign. The aim is to raise awareness that the ocean is for everyone, and we must take pride in our blue planet. Kate Sutter, Science Communicator, worked as a diver on Google’s Underwater Street View and found new and non-traditional ways to share reefs with those unable to dive themselves. “I am just as proud of being part of the queer community and working with people on the #PrideInTheOcean campaign who are as passionate about the ocean as I am,” says Sutter.
Pride months takes place around the world each year throughout June. Not only is it a celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and inclusivity but plays a vital part in educating the wider community on important issues and why inclusivity is so important to each and every one of us.
Article written by Paul Graham