The athlete and activist joins us for another #AuthenticMe Q&A in which she discusses her advocacy work, who inspires her, and her cherished personal moments from LGBTQ history…
By Jon Holmes
From the US women’s national soccer team and their allies fighting for equal pay, to the collective weight of sport supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, we’re continuing to see a renaissance in the power of athlete activism.
Amazin LeThi has blazed that trail on a journey that’s taken her from weightlifting and bodybuilding to White House receptions and barrier-breaking conversations. Increasingly, her advocacy work is encompassing projects in Asia, the USA and the UK and through her own Foundation, she is regularly inspiring new audiences around the world by sharing her unique story on different platforms.
Central to Amazin’s experience is being both East Asian and LGBTQ – she was born in Saigon, grew up in Australia, and identifies as ‘rainbow’ which is a Vietnamese term for queer. She has always been a great supporter of Sports Media LGBT+ and is increasingly a sought-after voice across the British media, having been featured on Sky Sports, Metro, PinkNews and Gay Times already this year.
JH: Hi Amazin, thanks for joining us for this Q&A. In your view, what’s the relevance of Pride to sport?
AL: Sport brings people together – it’s a language that everyone can understand, which also makes it a place where you can change hearts and minds. Think of some of those big athlete names, like David Beckham, Colin Kaepernick, Gus Kenworthy, Megan Rapinoe, Tom Daley – they’ve got massive platforms afforded them to by followers who not only love sport but love who these athletes are, and will listen to what they say.
If you’re LGBTQ, that’s a slice of who you are in life, just like if you have a passion for sports. Marking Pride Month is a great way for sports to show that sense of unity.
As an out athlete yourself, what suggestions do you have for governing bodies and sports organisations to show their support for Pride?
That’s always the question – how can you be an ally and an advocate? You can have a rainbow flag flying for one month of the year, but it’s about more than that. Firstly, having internal Pride and ally networks shows you’re not just ‘talking the talk’. Then it’s about opening your door to advocates, so you can gain greater understanding of what it is to be LGBTQ. I do a lot of work around the world with different governments, using sport as a platform for conversations on equality. Through storytelling, panel discussions, and social media, you begin to learn more about your citizens and you amplify their voices. We need more of this in developing countries, and sport can help with that.
What would be your statement of intent for Pride in 2020?
For me, it’s more about building bridges than any form of protest – I’m working to remove the challenges and barriers that Asian people who are LGBTQ face within the community. Often I have to remind people that the continent of Asia is massive – it’s so much more than just China and Japan. You might hear about ‘better’ countries, but we need to keep the focus on countries with horrible anti-LGBTQ laws – places like Brunei, where you can still be buried up to your neck and stoned to death; and Malaysia, and Indonesia. Even in Singapore, same-sex sexual activity is still illegal for men.
As for Pride, we’re not seen as part of that in the way other communities are seen. When you look at Pride of London, for example, the visibility of East Asian people is very small indeed, even though the populations of these countries are among the biggest in the world. That makes our storytelling a statement in itself.
This year, we need to talk about black and Asian solidarity around police brutality, particularly in the US but also in the UK. As community leaders, we can work together more – we’re all still fighting for equality.
Also, I’m a massive trans ally and advocate. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen this targeting of the trans community, in Hungary, in the UK, and across the US where trans youth are being denied the platform of being able to play sports. In Idaho, that anti-trans law has passed, and in Connecticut, the Trump administration is saying they will pull funding unless trans athletes are banned. Tennessee is looking at passing that law too. We need to support the trans community in sports. I think about how sport has changed my life – I’d hate to think anyone would be denied that opportunity. Sport should be welcoming for everyone.
Who do you celebrate during this Pride season?
I give thanks for the out LGBTQ Asians that came before me. Until you see a mirror image of yourself, you don’t know who you can become. For anyone struggling deeply with their sexuality or gender identity, they often think their feelings are singular, but the LGBTQ community is massive – so many of us have gone through similar feelings. Our stories may be different but having that mirror image that can show you a way out.
Margaret Cho is someone who’s doing that for people like me. She’s a queer woman in Hollywood who is completely unapologetic in being Asian and LGBTQ.
We always have to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants. There were LGBTQ advocates before us in all different communities. That makes learning about our history very important. There are Asian LGBTQ advocates who have done great things, but we don’t yet get the platform that other communities do in terms of being able to share our history and acknowledge it.
Pride should also mean giving thanks to ourselves – we’ve been through so much but are still standing. I’m very thankful for the platform that I have now, to be able to advocate globally on behalf of the LGBTQ community and have this amazing access to governments, heads of state, VIPs and other decision makers. Sometimes when you share your story a lot, you can become a little desensitised to it – so you need to take stock, stop for a minute, and remember that you’re not doing it for you, but for a kid somewhere who’s struggling with their sexuality or gender identity right now. They might learn about you, find your website, see themselves, and they realise that they’re OK.
And that mirror image works both ways, doesn’t it? You imagine the impact it would have had on you.
Yes, whenever that question is asked of ‘what would you say to your younger self?’, I always think I’d just say, ‘it’s going to be OK… you’re enough’. It’s such a simple thing but for every LGBTQ person who’s gone through this journey, at some point they just wanted to hear that – that they’re worthy of the space they stand in.
As a kid, I had to create my own narrative and that’s really hard to do. There are young people out there who have similar ambitions to mine and now I know they can see my story.
At times, sharing heals you, especially if the story was trapped within yourself for a long time, along with any shame and humiliation that you used to feel because of how society used to treat you. Before, you thought ‘no one’s going to like me if I’m myself’. Later, you realise that by being authentic, you are far more successful in life than you ever thought you would be.
Do you have a Pride anthem that gets you going?
It’s got to be Olivia Newton John’s ‘Physical’ – there’s a disco version on YouTube, and it’s me to a ‘T’. My advocacy work is about me being a voice with action. ‘Physical’ is all about that, but also about having fun as well. I really love that song!
Is there an LGBTQ moment in time that’s particularly important to you personally?
It’s not widely known, but Vietnam was the first country in Asia to talk about marriage equality at government level. It didn’t go through, but it’s a reminder that we’re far more progressive than what people might think. Those moments within my own community make me proud, because that’s inherently part of me and my motherland. We had our first Viet Pride in 2012 and now we have nearly 40 Viet Prides across the country, so we’re reaching our hand towards equality. Also, the state media has always supported my work and have shared my story numerous times.
So perhaps for you, it’s a day yet to come – the day Vietnam votes for equal marriage?
That would be really special. I’ve always thought about getting married back in Vietnam. Last year Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalise equal marriage, and for the continent, that was a very big moment in history. I know exactly how Asia works and there will have been that mindset in Taiwan of ‘we would be the first – what would that mean?’ But suddenly when a country does become the first, the whole continent can see the benefit of what that means to society – equality for all.
The next big moment for LGBTQ equality in Asia could come in Japan before the Tokyo Olympics with an anti-discrimination law. That would be huge and we can also talk about how we can use sport as that platform. In the next few years, all the major sporting events will be in Asia – you already have Formula 1 and the Tokyo Games next year, then there’s the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, the Gay Games later that year in Hong Kong, the World Cup in Qatar. Sport can set the tone for what milestones are yet to be created in LGBTQ history.
Having grown up in Australia, what were your feelings when equal marriage was introduced there in 2017?
I actually felt disappointed because Australia was one of the last Western countries to implement marriage equality, and it should have been one of the first. I remember as a young teenager going to Sydney Mardi Gras and it was just ground breaking – it is for any LGBTQ person. It took so long for Australia to get to that moment of equality and it was the citizens who had to win it, when the government should have said ‘just pass it, we don’t need to go to a referendum’. So for me, that was a disappointing moment in history in the sense that it took so long.
Another of the big moments in history that I’m waiting for is equality in sports for the trans community – a day when allies like myself don’t have to speak up anymore. Women are already policed so much in sports and on top of that, trans women are policed even more so. We want to get to a time when everyone can access sport and we can all just get on with the game.
Finally, what would be your message for someone who’s LGBTQ but who is struggling to find their place in Pride?
That’s something I can understand, particularly for people from ethnic backgrounds. They might look at Pride and think, ‘I can’t see someone from my community… Pride’s not for me.’
That could be one benefit of Pride being virtual this year. In person, there’s a limited capacity of people that can attend Pride but now everyone in the world can log on and tap into every advocate. I’m part of Global Pride this year and my speech will be sent out at a certain time so that people in Asia can hear it.
I’m also part of PinkNews‘ ‘Pride for All’, and Pride in London for their virtual campaign as well. I’ve also partnered with The Advocate for a Pride Month to have Instagram live discussions on their Instagram with Hollywood Asian LGBTQ actors – so far, I’ve spoken with B.D Wong, Leo Sheng, Leonardo Nam and Rain Valdez. Virtual Pride has given me the opportunity to connect with the world.
It opens it up to more people – once you make that connection because you hear a story that’s similar to your own, or you see someone that’s similar to you, then you start to realise actually Pride is for you.
And if after all that you still feel disconnected from Pride, maybe it’s about finding your own support network and through that, a way to celebrate Pride that’s good for you – celebrating with friends or family members, or connecting with an LGBTQ group online.
Pride isn’t just a festival, it’s also a feeling – a sense of joy about what being LGBTQ is, about who we are. That’s something you should celebrate every day.