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As the pandemic began to ravage the world earlier this year, activist Amazin LeThi watched with growing concern the increasing reports of hate crimes against Asian-Americans. Discrimination and outright violence against Asians increased dramatically in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly after the Trump administration's efforts to paint the pandemic as a Chinese disease.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate crimes across the country, reports of Asian-Americans being harassed on the streets have grown significantly since January 2020 -- including incidents of people being told to "Go back to China" or getting blamed for "bringing the virus" to the U.S.
LeThi, who advocates for equality in sports, particularly as it pertains to Asian inclusion, is well aware of the implicit bias on display by the media. (And explicit bias of President Trump, who helped fuel racist sentiments.)
"We've been pushed and pushed," LeThi says. "There has to be this tipping point. For a very long time within the community, we have been used as a scapegoat in terms of racist rhetoric. You see it in the media. You see it in people who later say, 'Oh no, it was only a joke' and kind of brush it off. Once coronavirus racism came, it spread so quickly -- and it wasn't just words. It was knife attacks, fists, guns being pointed at people's heads, the rhetoric from the administration. And then suddenly, an Asian person in New York starts to say, 'Oh my god, it's not just in New York, it's all across the U.S., all across the world.'"
"I've been having these conversations for a very long time," says LeThi, who identifies as rainbow, a more inclusive term commonly used in the Vietnamese LGBTQ community. "People were listening, but not in the way that they're listening now. For me, I'm in this very important moment because [in the coming years] all the major sports events are going to be in Asia--even the first Gay Games in Hong Kong, in 2022. So all these conversations have now been elevated to the top."
LeThi is the first Asian ambassador for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit dedicated to champion LGBTQI+ equality, and Stonewall U.K., Europe's largest LGBTQ charity. Her own Amazin LeThi Foundation uses sports to develop leadership skills for "rainbow youth" and advocates for LGBTQ allyship in the athletic community.
Sports can be a great unifier, and that's a message LeThi will carry to the next Olympic games -- originally planned for this summer in Tokyo, but postponed due to the global pandemic.
"We need to use this platform of sport to unify and bring us together, and we have to look at the world differently now," says LeThi. "Part of the solution is standing up and being an ally.... Everyone has a connection to the Asian community somehow, and instead of fighting [racism] with anger, I think we need to fight it with love."
LeThi says cultural and generational barriers should also be acknowledged within Asian communities.
"We often think, Oh, my parents and grandparents don't understand the struggle that we're going through. They don't understand the racism that's been targeted towards us," she says. "But our parents and grandparents went through a struggle as well. I think by sharing our unique generational stories, we can find a connection."