By Dirk Smith
As part of their inaugural class of 11 athletes selected to be Sport Champion Ambassadors, professional bodybuilder Amazin LêThi is the only athlete of Asian descent to represent Stonewall UK. As the largest LGBTQI organization in UK, Stonewall UK is working to help advance LGBTQI equality in sports by promoting diversity, awareness and educational programs around the discrimination and harassment that LGBTQI athletes still face in sports. Their most visible campaign has been #RainbowLaces which has been successful to build awareness, education and discussion of LGBTQI issues in sports by distributing pairs of rainbow colored shoe laces to athletes and sports teams from the recreational level all the way up to the professional level.
For LêThi, the role is an important opportunity to expand the outreach of #RainbowLaces into Asia and promote the mission of Stonewall UK and #RainbowLaces to build representation of LGBTQI Asian athletes in the Europe. LêThi is a strong advocate for LGBTQI Asian Athletes, in 2014 she became Athlete Ally’s first ambassador of Asian descent and through this work she has been successful in getting more Asian LGBTQI athletes involved with the organization and building representation in the United States. For Stonewall UK, LêThi plans continue the success she built up with Athlete Ally and bring the movement to Europe.
LêThi shared that while national teams like Team Great Britain is working to promote diversity, but there is still a lot of work to be done, because the diversity still is not there. With her role at Stonewall UK, LêThi will be bringing the important discussion of racism and sexism in European sports, particularly in football and how it affects LGBTQI athletes. With reports every month about racism, sexist and anti-LGBTQI chants constantly happening at European football matches, LêThi remarks that there is not much being done on a systematic level to dismantle the racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic structures still prevalent in sports. LêThi notes that this prejudice is especially prevalent among LGBTQI Asian athletes which historically have a very low representation throughout sports.
Talking about the Southeast Asian Games, which is one of the Asia’s largest multi-sport events that draws around 5000 athletes from 11 countries throughout Southeast Asia. LêThi noted that there are no LGBTQI athletes represented at the games, and despite Football being the biggest sport of the games and throughout Asia, there are no openly professional LGBTQI athletes in Asia.
Of the few LGBTQI Asian athletes worldwide who have come out, many of them have gone back into the closet out of fear of stereotypical prejudices and cultural influences that make it difficult for such athletes to live openly and authentically. Many countries in Asia are oppressive to LGBTQI people, legally, culturally and socially which makes it difficult for athletes, even those living abroad, to live openly and authentically. Sports events like the Southeast Asian Games are often hosted in countries that have poor human rights records with oppressive cultures and laws that penalize LGBTQI people. LêThi’s role with Stonewall UK, just like with Athlete Ally, is important to create a connection for dismantling these oppressive structures.
As a Sport’s Champion Ambassador, LêThi is planning to take this discussion all over Europe, by speaking with government officials and organizers of events, including for the Commonwealth Games. These discussions include proactive efforts on how to dismantle the unconscious bias against minority athletes and instead, to engage with minority athletes in promoting participation and ultimately, representation. For LêThi, this is important because there is finally representation in such a large LGBTQI organization that can represent and speak up for the Asian minority in sports, and this is an important step moving forward.
Photos By Amazin Lethi