Swimmers Synchronize Social Justice

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Subversive Sirens members Suzy Messerole and Serita Colette. (Courtesy Mark VanCleave)

Local synchronized swim team the Subversive Sirens is on a mission, and it’s deeper than a swimming pool. 

The Subversive Sirens started in 2016 as a swimming duo. The Minneapolis-based group has expanded since then, and so has their mission.  

“We have to figure out what we stand for and what we believe in,” said team co-founder Suzy Messerole. “So that really helped … anchor, I think, our message, which is that we are learning to be free in the water, so that we can be free out in the world.” 

The team now has seven swimmers who are using their platform to dive into their goals: black liberation, body positivity, aquatic equity and queer visibility. 

In 2014, co-founder Signe Harriday attended the Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio. The Gay Games is an international athletic event that promotes equality and encourages inclusion. Harriday was inspired by the event and wanted to compete. She encouraged Messerole to join her in the next Games. The women chose synchronized swimming as their event, despite never competing in the sport before.  

“We swim, we dance, we do yoga, how hard can it be?” Messerole said.  

Four years later, they won a gold medal at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris.  

Today, the Subversive Sirens use their swimming platform to advocate for groups they say need to be represented both inside and outside the pool.  

“We each live this experience,” said group member Serita Colette. “Pretty much all of us on the team are constantly doing work in social justice, in our lives and our families, so it’s a really big part of who we are.”  

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Subversive Sirens members L to R: Jae Hyun Shim, Serita Colette, Signe Harriday, Zoe Hollomon, Suzy Messerole, Tana Hargest, Nicki McCracken. (Courtesy Mike Levad)

Colette recalled a recent example of the Sirens demonstrating social justice in their routines. At a competition in New York, their routine’s song quoted Sylvia Rivera, a transgender Latinx activist.  

As the swimmers rose from the water, the song featured Rivera saying, “I’ve been trying to get up here all day.” In the sound clip, Rivera was trying to get on stage at the Stonewall riots of 1969 to speak about gay and transgender rights.  

“For us, when we went to New York, it was like, let’s highlight this amazing person, not just because it’s cool, but because it’s actually really important to point out this legacy,” Colette said. “We need to continue to have these conversations both in queer spaces and out of queer spaces.”  

The group also represents many people of color who may not envision themselves as swimmers.  

“There is a racist history with swimming poolswhere they’re located, who gets them and who gets lessons,” Messerole said.  

That history had lasting effects on the way many people view pools and swimming.  

“Particularly brown folks, or queer folks, were not given all of the resources,” Colette said. “We usually have to fight for it.” 

“Being able to name that, we are also about equity when it comes to aquatics,”  Messerole added.  

Through their advocacy work, the Subversive Sirens continue to change the way people see these issues. On their social media pages, the Sirens are not afraid to post the ways they fight for marginalized communities. They share all the events they participate in, such as World Pride NYC. This dedication to aquatics and social justice is rare.  

“Growing up, I didn’t have that opportunity,” said Colette. Now, the Subversive Sirens are becoming the role models they wish they’d had.