A 12-year-old Black girl was disqualified from a Wisconsin swim meet over the weekend for wearing a homemade Black Lives Matter swimsuit, but organizers quickly reversed the decision and let her swim.
Sarah Lyons told CNN that her daughter Leidy Gellona is very interested in social justice and wanted to wear the swimsuit after they had talked about the death of 22-year-old Amir Locke, who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police executing a no-knock warrant.
They bought iron-on letters the night before the competition and put them on the suit.
In an interview on Wednesday with CNN’s “New Day,” Leidy said she had swum her first race on Sunday at Superior High School in Superior and was getting ready for her next event when she learned a volunteer official said she couldn’t compete in that suit.
“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,” Leidy told “New Day.”
“I felt bad and I felt disrespected because I wanted to show that I mattered.”
Lyons said her daughter had another suit she could change into, but she left the decision up to her. “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,’” Lyons said.
“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.’”
Lyons said her daughter was upset and sobbing.
The mother said she contacted the head of the Duluth NAACP to help with the dispute.
The Duluth Area Family YMCA, which sponsored the event, said that “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.’”
Leidy missed one race before the decision was reversed, her mom said.
The official was overruled by YMCA officials, and Leidy was allowed to continue participating in the swim meet, the Duluth YMCA said. The official has been banned from future swim meets hosted by the Duluth YMCA, the organization said.
“The Duluth YMCA is saddened that the student, their family, and teammates had to endure this unacceptable behavior. The Duluth YMCA will continue our ongoing commitment to train all staff and volunteers on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the organization said in a statement.
CNN has reached out to USA Swimming, which is the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States.
Black Lives Matter started with a hashtag in 2012 after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida and has grown into a social juggernaut.
The protest movement was reignited in the days after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in May 2020 and aims to shine a light on what it calls systemic racism and police brutality from America’s small towns to its urban centers.
Lyons said that when she contacted the local NAACP, the president of the chapter promised to be there in 15 minutes. Other members of the group came to support Leidy and cheered for her during her races.
“We need to protect our young Black girls and stand up against racism without being performative,” a statement from the Duluth NAACP chapter said.
The YMCA said it prioritizes diversity and inclusion.
“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,” the organization said.
Superior is just south of Duluth, Minnesota.
Lyons said her daughter isn’t on social media, but she’s shared some of the support that she’s gotten online.
NBA star LeBron James was one of the people praising the girl for her courage, posting a story on Instagram.
“I was so excited when I heard about it. I told my friends and they were like ‘oh my gosh, he’s the best,’ so I was pretty excited when I heard about that,” Leidy said. “I heard that he called me a beautiful young Black queen and I was like ‘yay!’