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12-Year-Old Swimmer Inundated With Support After Being Disqualified For Her BLM Swimsuit

12-Year-Old Swimmer Inundated With Support After Being Disqualified For Her BLM Swimsuit

The Duluth, Minnesota chapters of the YMCA and the NAACP are standing firmly behind a 12-year-old swimmer after she was temporarily disqualified from a swim meet because of her homemade swimsuit.

After talking with her mother about the death of 22-year-old Amir Locke, fatally shot by Minneapolis Police working under a no knock warrant, Leidy Gellona became increasingly passionate about social justice.

This prompted Gellona to iron "Black Lives Matter" onto the swimsuit she planned on wearing at an upcoming swimming competition.

But after completing her first race, Gellona learned a YMCA volunteer official asked for her to either change into a different swimsuit, or otherwise be disqualified from the competition.

When faced with the decision, Gellona told her mother, Sarah Lyons, about the choice she had to make and how she chose not to change her suit, as the mother and daughter recounted during an interview on CNN's New Day.

"I went to my mom and told her, and I was like 'I'm not going to take it off' and my mom was like 'OK.' "
"So, she went to talk to the official and she started making phone calls because I said no."
"I felt bad and I felt disrespected because I wanted to show that I mattered."

Even though her daughter had another suit which she could have changed into, allowing her to continue in the competition without jeopardy, Lyons supported her daughter's decision.

"She came and told me that she was absolutely not taking the suit off and I said, 'Whatever you want to do I support that.'"
"So, I said, 'If you want to take it off, fine, take it off, that's totally cool. If you don't want to I 100 percent support you.' "
"And she said, 'Mom, I'm not taking it off.'"

Perhaps aware of the consequences of her decision, Lyons said Gellona burst into tears, resulting in Lyons immediately contacting the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, as well as the staff at the Duluth YMCA which was sponsoring the event.

Upon learning of what happened, the YMCA overruled the decision made by the volunteer, subsequently issuing a statement on their Facebook page.

"An independent volunteer official inappropriately barred a student athlete from taking part in the meet, due to their 'Black Lives Matter' swimsuit, stating that it 'went against USA Swimming’s policy of no political language'."
"In response to this ruling, Duluth YMCA staff swiftly disputed the claim directly with swimming officials and were in immediate contact with Duluth YMCA Leadership."
"The Duluth YMCA quickly overruled the decision, removed the official and the student is now participating in the meet."

Gellona missed out on one race before being reinstated in the event, but as Lyons recounted on New Day, re-joining the meet came at an unfortunate price.

"She was broken."
"She went there to swim, and that's really all that she wanted to do."

Gellona went on to express how keeping her swimsuit on was equally important to her as she is always the only Black competitor in her local swim meets.

"It's just me with the whole swimming pool with White kids and I'm the only one."

Gellona and Lyons also believed if she hadn't been the only Black competitor, her swimsuit would not have been an issue and Gellona would have received more immediate support.

After being contacted by Lyons, the Duluth branch of the NAACP told the mother and daughter to stay put, and said representatives would be there in 15 minutes.

They lived up to their promise, bringing along "tons of support" as Lyons told New Day, later expressing their pride in the decision Gellona made on their Twitter page.

Lyons claimed the NAACP, "wrapped [Gellona] in love upon their arrival, but as touched as the mother and daughter were, Lyons still wishes the situation didn't escalate in the way it did.

"It's not something a 12-year-old should have to go through just to compete in the sport that they love."

Twitter users agreed with Lyons as her daughter's story gained more traction.

Among the others who shared their support for Gellona, was NBA superstar LeBron James who shared his support in an Instagram story, much to Gellona's delight.

"I was so excited when I heard about it."
"I heard that he called me a beautiful young Black queen and I was like 'yay!'"

The Duluth YMCA confirmed that the volunteer official would be barred from any future swim meets hosted by the organization, making a vow to ensure another episode like this one would not happen in the future.

"The Duluth Area Family YMCA is committed to being an anti-racist organization and stands with BIPOC communities throughout the Northland and throughout our country."
"We know that Black Lives Matter and we will continue to work to educate ourselves, to stand against inequality, and to strive to be active allies in the ongoing fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion."