By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

It’s been a busy few months in the world of LGBTQ+ Sport, with the recent announcement of Valencia hosting the 2026 Gay Games and the #RainbowLaces campaign kicking off. Our managing editor, Dirk Smith, caught up with Stonewall UK and Gay Games ambassador, Amazin LêThị, to get the scoop.

 

David Smith  

Let’s start with Gay Games, you recently attended the Annual General Assembly. It was your first AGM and a rare occasion for an official Gay Games ambassador to attend. Tell me about your experience, what were your impressions?

 

Amazin LêThị

It was fantastic. This was the first time that they’ve ever had an ambassador at an AGM! When they made the announcement for who’s hosting the next Gay Games in 2026 from the three different countries that bid, Spain, Germany, and Mexico, to be part of that excitement of the announcement with Valencia hosting the next Gay Games, it is so exciting for the Valencia team. The conversations that we will be able to have off the back of the Hong Kong Gay Games in 2023, and for the mere fact that we’ve had so many major sports events that will be leading up to that. There’ll be many exciting conversations that we can have, and I think the engagement of having an ambassador there to be able to meet in person, especially after the last two years where everything’s been virtual. I haven’t met many of the Federation members in person, even those that I speak to on a regular basis, and I think it’s important for the host cities as well to have that engagement with Federation ambassadors. These conversations are very important as they think of the planning of the event. Even though five years seems a long time away, it’s not when you must plan a major sports event.

 

David Smith 

As far as my experience goes, the Gay Games ambassadors haven’t been super proactive with the organization. So, it’s nice to see that you, as an ambassador, are being proactive and facilitating these discussions by being present at these events. It makes a big difference.

 

Amazin LêThị

It really does because these host cities need a tremendous amount of support to plan, not just the games, but the cultural aspects as well. An ambassador like myself, also being Asian, I come from a very different perspective. As you know, we usually don’t talk about being Asian and LGBTQ in sports, in Europe. So, it’s a perfect opportunity for a new host city to think differently about the Gay Games that they’re going to host but also what kind of conversations that we want to have. In five years’, time, the world’s going to look very differently. Hopefully, we will not be in a pandemic, but we would have had so many interesting and engaging sports conversations leading up to Hong Kong Gay Games, and then obviously, after that, Gay Games in Valencia that we can continue to build on. It’s very important because we are facilitating the discussion.

 

David Smith 

Going into the Gay Games, Hong Kong, what are your expectations, in terms of representation of Asian LGBTQ+ athletes going into Gay Games Hong Kong, but then from there transitioning to the games in Valencia?

 

Amazin LêThị

I feel that because of the pandemic, Hong Kong Gay Games have been postponed for another year, which makes two Gay Games very close together, it’s a fantastic leverage for Valencia coming off the excitement of the Gay Games in Hong Kong and the conversations that we will have there to utilize that momentum to continue.

 

David Smith 

I’m excited because I think it’ll be a great way to really expand our game, perspective and reach in being able to facilitate these discussions, but also having that representation of LGBTQ+ athletes from Asia. Like, all over Asia, different countries in different areas that will have greater exposure to the games in Hong Kong, and then hopefully be able to get them more motivated to come to Valencia and participate in events later.

 

Amazin LêThị

Yeah, so I like to think so. I think when we look at major sports events right now, we’ve never had this moment in history where Asian athletes in general have been highlighted with so many sports events coming up next year that just happens to be in Asia. Then the conversation around being Asian and LGBTQ, knowing that in a year, we’ll have the first Gay Games in Asia, a year after that, World Pride will be the first time in Asia, in Taiwan. So, we have these moments in sporting history and LGBTQ history where the spotlight is now being shown on Asia and I think the new host, Valencia, will be able to leverage off that conversation and the expansion of sports through Asia as a moment for them to be able to encourage Asian athletes to come into Europe. Also, it will encourage European Asian athletes who didn’t really feel like they had a voice before, to be able to take part because we’re in a different place and time. When we think about the last Gay Games in Europe in 2018. We weren’t having these conversations that we’re having now, we’re in a completely different place. I think in five years’ time, when we have the next European Gay Games, we’ll be in another place. I think it’s a perfect time to bring the games back to Europe.

 

David Smith 

Exactly. And then there’s a lot of people trying to host the Eurogames, and you have the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham which you’re also an ambassador for the Pride House in Birmingham. So, I think that also creates this opportunity to build upon what we’re creating here in terms of getting those voices represented and getting those athletes into being part of it.

 

Amazin LêThị

Yes, absolutely. We’ve just never had this moment in history, I think about all the discussions I have about being Asian and LGBTQ+ in sports, but we never had these big hooks around sports to tie it to anything until now. I think it’s such an exciting moment to be Asian and LGBTQ+ in sports.

 

David Smith 

Indeed, have you been working at all with the Gay Games Hong Kong team and connected with them?

 

Amazin LêThị

I think with the postponing of the Gay Games in Hong Kong until 2023, It will all start next year. I think everyone is just trying to get through the last few weeks 2021.

 

David Smith 

I know I am right now.

 

Amazin LêThị

I’m thinking next year is going to be a huge year for sports and it’s a year that we’ll be able to build on into the 2023 Gay Games in Hong Kong.

David Smith 

Indeed. So, talking about the last few weeks of 2021. We have #RainbowLaces coming up on December 8. Can you tell me a little bit about your part in that and in what you’re doing with that?

 

Amazin LêThị

So, #RainbowLaces Day is on December 8, but the Rainbow Laces campaign started on November the 26th and it goes to December the 13th. So, I was in 2018, the first out Asian athlete to take part in the Rainbow Laces campaign when I appeared in their toolkits. Since then, I am the only Asian out athlete and then in 2019, I became the first out Asian Stonewall UK ambassador. I think this year, it’s all about inclusion in sports. It’s been such a difficult time for the LGBTQ+ community in sports, particularly the trans community. I mean, you think about what’s happened in the US, with 10 states, banning trans kids from sports and the conversations that we’re having around elite athletes who are trans or non-binary at the Olympics. What rainbow laces does in terms of sending out this message of solidarity, particularly to those who are allies of the community. We see so many athletes who aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community and so many sports organizations, corporations, teams getting involved, and then Stonewall ambassadors, like myself, having these conversations around inclusion in sports. Bringing awareness to the fact that you shouldn’t have to fear, violence and discrimination for turning up as yourself to play the game and how disconcerting that is, particularly for ethnic minority groups. It’s a double whammy of discrimination with racism that we receive on top of trying to be our authentic self in sports. This very simple act of having some Rainbow Laces here, putting rainbow laces on your sneakers or on your everyday shoes just to show that you support the LGBTQ+ community and ending homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, or any kind of anti LGBTQ+ hate across the sports community.

 

David Smith 

I think that’s a huge gesture for something as simple as lacing on a shoe, just being able to have that solidarity. I think that’ll be important, especially leading up to the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar, which is very well known for being oppressive and prosecuting LGBTQ+ people. Being able to have that kind of solidarity, even in the most subtle ways, can have a big impact.

 

Amazin LêThị

It means so much. I think of Lewis Hamilton, who just competed in Qatar recently and wearing a rainbow helmet. That’s the thing about being an ally, you don’t necessarily have to say anything, but it’s in your actions. Such as Lewis Hamilton showing up wearing a rainbow helmet and that image going around the world. Then after that, him talking about being an ally towards the LGBTQ+ community. I think it’s the same with the Rainbow Laces campaign and showing solidarity of wearing rainbow laces. I always see it as that coffee shop moment, when you’re walking past a coffee shop and you see the rainbow flag on the door, what that means to someone like myself knowing that’s a safe space. It’s the same thing when you’re on the sporting field and you see someone wearing rainbow laces, in that moment you know that they’re, a part of the community or an ally to the community, and they’re showing solidarity. It’s such an easy act, and that is what I love about the campaign. It’s not difficult to do either, you can go online to the Stonewall website https://www.stonewall.org.uk/ and order rainbow laces. You can put them on your sneakers or any of your day shoes.

 

David Smith 

That ally ship is very important too, I had this discussion with somebody else as well, there’s only so much that we can do as individuals, but really, it’s the allies that we need to depend on for really putting this stuff out there and building that awareness. Making it so that even when we’re not around, they’re still speaking up and representing for us.

 

Amazin LêThị

Yes, ally ship is very important, because allies speak to other straight allies in a completely different way that we may not. I think it’s not about what we can do as individuals, it’s about what the entire community can do to end LGBTQ+ hate and sports.

David Smith 

Going into 2022 What are some events, or things that are coming up that you’re looking forward to?

 

Amazin LêThị

I think 2022 will be an exciting year, as we continue to come out of the pandemic, sports have been this beacon of hope in the last year in terms of athlete activism that we’ve never seen before. Sports is a language that brings everyone together and in terms of having difficult conversations, we can do it through the platform of sport. I think about all my work that I do, as a global LGBTQ+ advocate and athlete activist of how I champion equality through the lens of sports. My ambassador role was being part of Pride House and working with the Commonwealth Games, I’m so excited for the first time that we’re going to have conversations around being Asian and LGBTQ+ in sports. That’s important in Birmingham, one of the most diverse cities in the UK. I think when we’re looking at these major events, I always think what is the legacy that we want to leave behind? But also, the legacy that we want to carry into the next games and the next host? We have the Beijing Winter Olympics coming up, I find that very exciting, because when China had it many years ago, we were in a completely different place. We can have different conversations now around the Beijing Olympics. We also have the Qatar World Cup coming up as well as Southeast Asian Games held in my home country of Vietnam. In 2023, it’s just continuing to build on this conversation of how we can look through the lens of sports to champion equality and continuing having these conversations around the power of storytelling about what it’s like to be in my shoes as an Asian, queer athlete, the challenges that my community face, and how we can be better allies towards each other. I think next year is going to be another difficult year for the trans and non-binary community in sports. 10 states in the US have already passed anti trans sports bills and there are many more states that are pending, so we will still continually need to work towards. I’ll be looking at that with my work with athlete ally as one of their ambassadors next year.

 

David Smith 

It’s not all grim though, there’s little bit of a positive too with the IOC recently passed their new guidelines reflective of more inclusion regarding trans, intersex, and non-binary athletes. So, even though you have some of the states that are trying to ban trans, non-binary, and intersex athletes in sport, there’s still at least some progress being made.

 

Amazin LêThị

Absolutely, look at the Tokyo Olympics, we had our first three trans athletes participate and what that means to trans and non-binary kids who are looking at the Olympics and see themselves for the first time. We’ve had more athletes come out, we have our first gay professional footballer to come out from Western Australia, it’s amazing that it’s taken so long as we continually have these moments of hardship, we also continually have moments of joy and breakthrough in the community.

 

David Smith 

I’m excited, going back to what you’re talking about, with all these events happening now in Asia. So, you’ve got the Beijing Olympics, Gay Games Hong Kong, Southeast Asian Games, World Pride in Taiwan and all these other things that are happening. For me as an ally, I am excited about it, because it’s going to help me learn so much more.  Being able to go to Hong Kong and participate in these events, get to meet, and connect with so many people from these areas. I’m really excited about it. Like you said, it helps me learn more about what they experience and how I can be a better ally. Just getting to experience that culture, I think is important. This helps me learn as an ally, but it also helps increase everybody’s worldview on it.

 

Amazin LêThị

I think we saw that with the Tokyo Olympics. We’ve never seen so many Asian athletes win gold for Western countries. They broke down that stereotype because it was across all different sports from skateboarding to swimming and other sports. We’ve heard real stories from our community and for the first time, many people would have learned about an Asian athlete as well. So, I think that perspective has changed, and I think going into next year, particularly with the Beijing Olympics in Asia, people will learn about the rise of Asian sports and Asian athletes. Hopefully, we’ll have more out Asian athletes, not just at the Beijing Olympics, but at all the other major sports events. It’s a very exciting moment in history.

 

David Smith 

Indeed, and I’m excited to see how it all develops in the next years.

 

Amazin LêThị

Yes, I’m looking forward to it. I think after two years of being enclosed in the pandemic, everyone needs some saving grace, and I believe next year will be that moment for everyone, particularly in sports.

 

David Smith 

Agreed! Thank you for joining me today, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you!

 

Amazin LêThị

Thank you!