To a Brave Environment!
An interview with Martin Stark (He/Him), CEO, World Gay Boxing Championships Limited and Gay person.
What discrimination means to you personally?
For me, discrimination is an experience that no person should go through. Having been discriminated against in life like many other people in the LGBTQIA+ community, I can say that it’s quite a painful experience. No person wants to be discriminated against. Discrimination is something I want to disrupt ensuring that present and future generations don’t undergo the pain of discrimination.
What prompted you to start the organization- World Gay Boxing Championships Limited?
I started boxing at the beginning of 2018 and fell in love with the sport. The sport essentially discovered me. While I was cataloging my training on Instagram using #gayboxing, I noticed that there were fewer than 1000 posts on gay boxing on Instagram whereas there were millions of posts with #boxing. I created the world’s first LGBTQIA+ boxing championships to provide opportunities for people from the community and our allies to participate. The beauty of it is that it just started with the people who want to help make a difference. We have received statements of support from MPs, Boxing Australia, World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organization, and International Boxing Organization.
The 2020 Summer Olympics which was held this year resonates close to heart as this Team LGBTQ+ won a gold and silver medal in boxing. I’m also very pleased to see other countries doing better at sport, especially India. I would love to see members of the Indian LGBTQIA+ community or our allies come over to Sydney in 2023 and participate in our championships.
Have you personally faced any discrimination within the sport?
I personally haven’t experienced discrimination from someone I’ve trained with. But I have experienced homophobia in my life. I have the words “COURAGE” and “FEAR NOTHING” tattooed on my back. So, if someone were to make a homophobic remark, it would not affect me the way it would have done previously. This is why I want to provide an environment where people feel safe, welcome, and accepted. I want to disrupt homophobia, racism, and hatred through inclusion and participation. When more people start participating, it really changes hearts and minds. I feel there is nothing better than the friendships that we make, the relationships we form, and the community we grow. Allies stand up for their community and friends, and it is what we are trying to do.
How has the organization grown in recent times?
We’ve been an organization for a year now. We became a not-for-profit organization in Australia in August 2020. The interest from people to participate has grown substantially in recent times. We have had outstanding support from the boxing community. Boxing Australia and Boxing NSW are providing institutional support helping us create an inclusive program and organize the championships. With all the support, we are helping put LGBTQIA+ boxing on the map.
How can people deviate from stereotypes and understand your cause?
The key is listening to stories. Listen to what other people are saying about LGBTQIA+ people. Your perception or your reality may not align with what somebody is sharing with you. Because stereotypes are just a form of prejudice. At some point in time, you could have laughed at people from the community. But when you think about why you treat a person differently, or why a person should not compete in boxing in Olympic Games, or why a person should not become the next World Boxing Champion because of who they are, you will start to change your perception. The answer could be that they cannot enjoy certain privileges because of prejudice and homophobia. When someone tells you, “I’m just going to the boxing ring to take a boxing class. I’m going to participate in a competition. That’s all I’m doing. And the fact that I’m a gay person really doesn’t stop me from doing it. It just means I can go there and be a proud gay man participating in a sport”, you can listen to them. Visible allyship and support can help break these barriers.
Do you think people are trying to understand the needs of the community better now? Are things looking better?
In many ways, things are looking better. In the 1980s, when I was growing up, homophobia was entrenched and there were high levels of discrimination and hatred in society. Even governments were enacting laws to prevent people from talking about being a part of the community. There was no way you could reveal your identity. It was such a tough environment. Thankfully, we have had the repealing of some laws. I have been following the legal reforms in various countries. Even in India, Section 377 was repealed. So there has been greater acceptance. However, hatred is never far away, and it’s seen in such major levels on social media. In the 2019-20 FA Premier League season which was cut short, the number of homophobic incidents increased by 92%, and racist incidents increased by almost 50%. So while there is greater acceptance, but there are also higher instances of hatred in the community.
If an LGBTQIA+ boxer representing the community and the crowd cheering for him as a gay boxer, then that would give him confidence. But if the boxer from the community in the ring hearing slurs like fag***, the pressure on that boxer must be immense. So what we are asking is for the opportunity to participate in sports and society without any kind of hatred. We are at a better place than before, but we do have a long way to go.
How can the LGBTQIA+ community handle such hate and accept themselves?
There are now different forms of hatred from when I was growing up particularly on social media. Having to hide who you are is one of the hardest things to do. I can tell you that when I came out of the closet, it was such a relief. It was life-changing. I was accepted immediately by my family and friends and I really want the same for everyone else in the community. After that, I have lived on my own terms. Because I am who I am, and I am not going to change who I am because I’m gay. For another person, though, I cannot imagine what that must be like. A person deserves to live their life as who they are. If you can find the courage to accept who you are as a person, it does make the next phase a bit easier. This is where allies standing up and saying you’re my friend, brother, and sister and welcoming people with a smile would go a long way. The brave environment would have a cascading effect.
Nota Bene: By sharing his experience, Martin has made the world a better place. He has also literally tried to make the world a better place through the efforts of his organization. If any of our readers have questions regarding this, we would be happy to bridge the gap between the author and yourself or attempt to ensure coordination. Feel free to reach out to us!