By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)
Our managing editor of sports, David “Dirk” Smith recently caught up with the founder and organizer of the World Gay Boxing Championships, Martin Stark. Check out our conversation!
Dirk Smith (DS): Welcome, Martin. Thanks for joining me! Let’s catch up! You just hosted the first World Gay Boxing Championships back in February during World Pride Sydney, how did that go?
Martin Stark (MS): It was absolutely fantastic. We had a two-day amateur boxing competition on the 17th and 18th of February. Some highlights include having a trans man fight against a cisgender man and winning the world title in their division, had two awesome drag queen MCs entertaining the crowd, we had Kate McLaren who recently won the Australian Professional welterweight title, there showing visible support. Also, Gary St. Claire who is a two-time world boxing champion and hall of famer, was also there showing support. The event really was about breaking down the barriers, creating opportunities for the community and was the culmination of three and a half years of hard work over within two days.
DS: That’s fabulous and it was really exciting to see it finally come to fruition after all the craziness that was going on. I know it was a long time and a lot of uncertainty there, so it was nice to see it finally take place and be so successful.
MS: It was the world’s first amateur boxing competition for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. One of the key learnings I took from that was the importance of building relationships, particularly within the boxing, and especially women’s boxing community. For example, I reached out to Boxing Australia in 2020 and within two weeks of me contacting them their board voted to support the World Gay Boxing Championships and they provided the institutional guidance and support for everything that we needed. Boxing New South Wales also provided all the judges and referees, but they went one step further by providing coaches on match day for anybody who was traveling who didn’t have their coach there. When I talk about grassroots change, this is the grassroots change that is happening. Whether it’s a national sporting organization, a state sporting organization, or local level clubs, it’s about supporting the LGBTQ+ community and allies to celebrate sport.
DS: I noticed in the grassroots level is really where we’ve been able to see a lot of change and progress, not just for LGBTQ+ athletes and LGBTQ+ sports, but how grassroots inclusive sports like the World Gay Boxing Championships and other events have made a broader impact on our community and our society in terms of making progress and building awareness and education for LGBTQ+ inclusion, not just in sports, but within our society as a whole.
MS: We know participatory sport is a key intervention strategy that boosts mental health, physical health, and overall wellbeing. Studies show that LGBTQ people participate in sport at half the rate of the wider population. Now, imagine removing that barrier so you now have 50% more people from a community participating in sport. Nelson Mandela said, “sport has the ability to unify.” We have great people within the LGBTQ+ community, we have awesome allies, enabling inclusion so I think that the least we can do is get involved in in sport or another activity and take a stand so that your sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t stop you from achieving your dreams.
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DS: You’ve been very proactive in reaching out and contacting the national governing body and the state governing body but also athletes, organizers, and professionals from all over the world to help you find support and promote the World Gay Boxing championships. That made a big impact too.
MS: One of the sad things we didn’t get many people from overseas. Especially boxers from Africa who were unfortunately unable to get a visa to come to Australia. We would have had awesome boxers from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, The Gambia, some who participated at the Olympic level and Commonwealth Games level. People from South America and from North America, Asia, Europe, unfortunately weren’t able to come as we hoped. Hopefully in two years’ time, we’ll have a more diverse representation at the event for more of the LGBTQ+ global community. I was able to get statements of support from four of the five major boxing organizations, I do want to particularly highlight the World Boxing Council. They provided a statement of support, videos, visible allies from LGBTQ+ boxers, and straight boxers over the last three and a half years. Also, they issued a public statement last year saying they’re proud to be an LGBTQ+ ally and support WGBC. But that statement wasn’t performative. That statement talks about bullying, harassment, and persecution of LGBTQ+ people in various countries throughout the world which was one step further than just an empty statement. It was actually a broader statement talking about human rights.
DS: You mentioned how sport is an intervention strategy in a lot of ways and being able to participate in a sport helps to build confidence, strength, and resilience for LGBTQ+ people and other communities to stand up against bullying, hatred, and discrimination.
MS: In parallel to the championships, discretely. WGBC, has been conducting an anonymous global survey on LGBTQ+ people and allies in boxing. We have 26 responses from people in 15 countries, including Singapore, Japan, Cuba, Brazil, America, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria. It’s a snapshot survey, and the results show that 92.3% believe homophobia is a problem in boxing, almost 90% the same for transphobia, 40% have experienced some form of homophobia wherever they train and compete. Over half of the people in the survey are out or would feel comfortable coming out and almost two thirds have visible allies or signs of visible support where they train and compete. That tells me is that, in terms of LGBTQ+ and boxing, there are people all over the world participating in the sport, which is great for overall diversity. It also shows that there’s visible support and LGBTQ+ boxers are able to find spaces where they are supported to train and compete. I believe it’s consistent with other studies on experiences homophobia and transphobia in sport. I’m encouraged with the findings that there’s something to work with in the future.
DS: It’s good to have that outside support and allyship within the boxing community as well, especially because we can’t just do this ourselves. LGBTQ+ boxing is still relatively young, there’s organization for LGBTQ+ boxing right now, other than the work that you’ve already done. So, a lot of athletes are going to have to find their ability to train in, in non-LGBT specific spaces. Where can people connect with you and the World Gay Boxing Championships on social media websites?
MS: Check us out at https://www.wgbc.org.au/ and you can connect with our socials from there!
Photo Credit: Martin Stark and WGBC.