Due to the illness, Stark went into two induced comas and underwent a tracheotomy. He remembers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with the “dreams of a truly traumatic coma” after his second.
And that’s how he discovered boxing, the sport he describes as offering him the gift of “being myself, of feeling at ease, of feeling vulnerable”.
Through his career in boxing, Stark came to organize the World Gay Boxing Championships (WGBC), the first LGBTQI + boxing tournament in the world, to be held in Sydney in 2023.
The list of events, which have been supported by Boxing Australia as well as most of the sport’s leading organizers and administrators, will feature amateur fighters of different weights, ages and abilities.
In addition to introducing the sport to a whole new audience, Stark hopes the WGBC can “disrupt homophobia, transphobia, hate in sport.”
“I think the main thing is around visibility and representation,” he told CNN Sport. “There were trailblazers in the world of boxing. You think women weren’t able to compete in boxing at the Olympics until 2012. Think what Nicola Adams achieved. Women are boxing. in the United States since the 1990s, so women have. ” made a trail of boxers.
“And I think that’s where my whole spirit of inclusion comes from – because of what others have achieved and for me, my organization, we are very close to the local and amateur level, but we want to disrupt homophobia, transphobia, hatred in sport. “
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“Boxing is for everyone”
Stark was a swimmer at school. He remembers being chosen last in school sport, with the exception of swimming.
His introduction to boxing came when he visited his local martial arts center for self defense lessons.
Previously, he had regarded sport as “barbaric”. But it has become a safe space.
Due to the masculine nature of the sport, many might view boxing as very “heteronormative,” according to Stark. But as a member of the LGBTQI + community, he has come to find sport extremely inclusive.
“Boxing is for everyone,” he says.
“From my personal experience, I have found the sport to be very inclusive. I have been welcomed into various gyms,” Stark continues.
“I trained for my first fights and all of my gym coaches, coaches, everyone involved in our first fight were very welcoming as the coaches and participants even recorded ‘Happy Pride Month’ videos. . “
Stark fell in love with the sport, fully immersing himself in the club and the classes there. He remembers calling himself “the future gay boxing champion” as a joke.
He dreamed of boxing at the Gay Games in 2022, but the sport was eliminated from future games – postponed until 2023 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This is where his idea for the WGBC came from. “I just got the idea, ‘Why don’t I organize the world’s first LGBTQI + boxing championships, which includes our allies?’” He recalls.
The inaugural WGBC will be held in Sydney in 2023 in coordination with WorldPride and Mardi Gras in the city.
Stark has received stamps of support from the world’s leading boxing organizations: the World Boxing Association, the International Boxing Organization, the World Boxing Council, and the World Boxing Organization.
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Starting at the bottom
In addition to hosting a boxing festival for all ages, abilities and skill levels, Stark hopes the WGBC can make an impact on LGBTQI + representation in sport.
“There have been very few professional gay boxers who have won major championships,” he explained. “I think representation and visibility are really important.”
But Stark believes that while improving representation at the elite level is important, there isn’t enough emphasis on the local and amateur levels.
Like the Bingham Cup – a biennial, international, non-professional, gay rugby union tournament – he hopes the WGBC can encourage young members of the LGBTQI + community with an interest in boxing to try the sport.
But in addition to encouraging engagement with soft science, Stark hopes it can have an effect on stopping homophobia and transphobia in sports.
According to one study, 80 percent of over 12,000 participants around the world have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sports. The study also found that 78 percent of participants believed that an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.
Although he was subjected to the “typical social media troll” following the founding of the WGBC – something he ignored – he believes it can make a difference.
“There is still work to be done, but it’s really local and amateur level. And I’m talking about disruption through inclusion and participation,” he said.
“I’m working with an organization called Proud to Play. They’re going to be doing consultation for us and community engagement to help with our trans and gender diversity policy. But also, we’re working with them on an inclusive gyms project. that if you feel more welcome in the gym, if you feel welcome to work out, you are more likely to get involved in sport at the amateur level and maybe up to the professional level. “
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Stark’s first hope is that the WGBC can “bring together boxing, LGBTQI + and the community at large.”
As for his long-term hopes? He wants something more transcendent.
“The reason I created the organization, I want [homophobia, transphobia, etc.] no longer exist by the end of the decade.