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Activist Amazin LeThi Is Fighting for Asian Inclusion in Sports

Activist Amazin LeThi Is Fighting For Asian Inclusion In Sports

This weight training maven is breaking down barriers facing Asian-American LGBTQ athletes.

Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, but they are still not reflected widely in sports, nor are there widespread support systems for Asian-American LGBTQ athletes to come out.

Amazin LeThi has made it her mission to change that. In 2014, the Vietnamese-born athlete and activist became the first Asian ambassador for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit LGBTQ athletic advocacy group. In August, she became the first Asian ambassador for Stonewall U.K., Europe's largest LGBTQ organization. Now with her own organization, Asian Athletes Alliance, which launched this summer, she's advocating for LGBTQ allyship within the Asian community itself by igniting a larger discussion about equality and sports.

LeThi's mission couldn't come at a better time. Asia will soon play host to several major sporting events--including the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Formula 1 in Singapore this year, and the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong. While the world has their eyes on the games, LeThi sees them as an opportunity.

"At that time, you have the world stage," explains LeThi, who identifies as rainbow, a more inclusive term commonly used in the Vietnamese LGBTQ community. "You have all these governments coming together that can champion equality.... One of my big focuses is having these conversations around equality for the Asian community, using sports as a platform, because I think it's a language that everyone understands. We can have these conversations through sports."

In the next 20 years, LeThi believes there will be a large influx in the Asian community, whereby they'll account for "one in 10" Americans. Yet despite the growing numbers, the community faces limitations in sports, which are linked to stereotypes that are incredibly nuanced -- but evident for those experiencing them.

According to the American Psychological Association, Asian-American college students had a higher rate of suicidal thoughts than white college students. They're also the most bullied out of all ethnic groups and have the highest dropout rates when it comes to sports, according to LeThi. Furthermore, the majority of athletic scholarships go to young Black male youth, so women and other minority groups are vastly overlooked for those opportunities -- something Asian Athletes Alliance is hoping to change.

LeThi has taken her message to powerful governments. Most recently, she spoke to the Australian embassy about how to cultivate safe and nurturing atmospheres for Asian LGBTQ athletes. And this year, she's traveling across the U.S. and around the world to continue the efforts.

Another major aim for LeThi is to build an institute in the U.S. that would assist homeless LGBTQ youth through leadership, sports, education, and business. These goals stem from her own journey of being Asian, but also her experience with homelessness.

"I grew up in a all-white background. I was a transracial adoptee, so I always physically looked very different and I suffered a terrible amount of racism growing up," she shares, explaining that having nearly zero LGBTQ or Asian representation in film and TV also led her to feel different. "I knew I wasn't straight as a child, but I couldn't put words to what I felt. I ended up just having very low self-worth and no confidence."

LeThi gravitated toward sports, specifically weight training, which helped her come out of her shell. Her local gym was "100 percent male adults," and she suffered racism and bullying, which reinforced "the negative stereotype of what it was to be Asian."

As she was figuring out her sexuality, weight training became a haven because it was a sport she "could do alone." In her teens, she became a strength training coach and began training young athletes for the Olympics. But despite her growth, "I still had never really met an LGBTQ person. I didn't really have that much contact with the Asian community, and I really struggled." Years of bullying led to depression and emotional battles, which pulled LeThi down a dark path with the "wrong crowd" and ultimately resulted in her experiencing homelessness.

"It was probably my lowest point. I was living in and out of shelters every day. I was suicidal. I was suffering from severe depression. There were some days I couldn't get out of bed."

She explains, "I think a lot of youth who struggle with their mental health and sexuality and bullying, and particularly Asian youth, we tend to bottle a lot up inside. We're seen as a community that suffers in silence, and we have a very [big] mental health issue because of that. For a lot of youth, it's very hard to pull yourself out of those situations. My background in sports helped me. I needed to find my reason to live... Pulling myself up was difficult. I had a nervous breakdown and it took me five years to get out of that and recover. It really changed me because I realized how the world treats you when you're in that situation and when you're being ostracized to the end of society, and how I'd been made to feel. Hence why I raise my voice now."

She adds, "I know how difficult it is to pull yourself out of those situations, that not everyone can. I'm in a position now to be able to share my story, to inspire other kids that are going through the same journey that just need to hear a story of someone who made it to the other end. But also for people to realize the challenges and barriers, particularly in Asian communities and also being LGBTQ, that we face in society."

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