In celebration of Pride Month, US Sailing connected with Caroline Young to discuss her experience coming out while in college in the early 2000s and how she has found a purpose supporting LGBTQ+ youth in sailing as a coach at Eckerd College.
Caroline has a highly decorated sailing career. Most recently, she won the 2021 Sunfish Women’s North American Championship and won the Aero 5 division and Top Female at the 2022 RS Aero North Americans. She is a college sailing All American who sailed for Stanford University from 2003-2007. She also sailed on the U.S. Sailing Team and represented the U.S. at the 2003 Youth World Championships in I420s and the 2006 Pre-Olympics in 470s.
Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Tampa and was a college sailor and a junior sailor. I competed heavily until I graduated from college. For about 12 years after college, I worked in the tech industry and I didn’t get out on the water much. In the last 3 years, I’ve jumped back into coaching and competing. I’m currently the assistant coach at Eckerd College and I’m really happy to be back in the sailing community, it feels like home.
How did you get involved in sailing?
My family moved to Davis Island in Tampa, FL when I was 8. The Davis Island Yacht Club hosted Learn to Sail camps, and it was right by my house. My parents had the good sense to enroll me, and I came home after the first day so excited. My dad has always said I was grinning ear-to-ear and they knew then that we were going to do whatever it took to keep me on the water. I started sailing Optis when I was 9, I was on the US National Team for Optis for 3 years, I was a Youth World’s competitor in i420s, and then a college All American while at Stanford University. So I really pushed my youth sailing career as far as I could.
What was the hardest part about coming out? What was the best part?
One of the hardest things for me was, as I got further into my college sailing career and towards graduation, I didn’t know anybody who was like me and I felt like I couldn’t identify myself for a long time. I look back now and realize when I was young the world felt so isolating, and I thought everything had to be a secret. Nobody was on TV, nobody was anywhere. And I was looking around thinking, “what do I do?” Thankfully, my Stanford sailing teammates didn’t have any sort of prejudice and were very supportive. But ultimately it was a very simple solution. Eventually, I met someone in school who had a similar background and I found out they were also gay. At that moment, I thought, “Okay I can do this.” It’s surprising to me that, ultimately, that’s all it took.
The most amazing part about coming out in the sailing community has been all of the athletes who have come to me to talk about their experiences and ask for advice or support. Some people who have shared their stories and struggles with me when they didn’t have anyone else to speak to. With every person or situation, I have paid sincere care to listen, to honor their feelings and experiences, and to offer my own experience and hope. I know I was craving that when I was their age and I’m so glad I can be an openly out adult in their world.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their identity?
Find safe people to talk to. I have found that there is no better antidote to fear and uncertainty than to share it with another person who understands and who, ideally, has personal experiences to offer and relate. We do not do this alone. It’s so important for people to be themselves. That ease and acceptance was the biggest challenge for me when I was younger.
What does Pride mean to you? Why is pride important?
To me, Pride is about being comfortable in my own skin. Pride is also about being an example, so that someone else has a mentor or a safe place, just in case. I take the role very seriously to be a safe, responsible, and open coach and I know that I’m doing a good job when people come to me in confidence to listen. It’s a real honor to be there for somebody. It’s not lost on me that if I had someone like that at the time, I may have felt differently about myself. Having the extra support of the sailing community is so essential, and I cannot stress it enough, because it really is life or death for many people.
If you had told the scared and detached college-aged me that US Sailing would feature LGBTQ+ sailors’ stories on their platform during Pride month and that I would be one of them, I think I would have been filled with hope. Sailing is my community. In fact, this conversation is healing for me, too. I really hope that people can read these stories and feel held and connected.
The Trevor Project (https://www.thetrevorproject.org)
It Gets Better Project (https://itgetsbetter.org)
Out Sports (https://www.outsports.com)