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Gay sporting heros: Ivan Denis

Gay Star News meets Ivan Denis - archer, future Olympian and ambassador for Antwerp’s World Outgames 2013
Ivan Denis - archer, future Olympian and ambassador for Antwerp's World Outgames 2013.

The World Outgames is a four-yearly LGBT sports event - in 2013 the event will be hosted by the city of Antwerp, Belgium.

One of Antwerp’s smartest moves was to appoint Belgium’s champion archer Ivan Denis as an ambassador for the World Outgames. Young, small, dark and handsome, Denis is cute as a button but fiercely intelligent and articulate. An impressive advocate for his sport and country.

Gay Star News met up with Denis when he was in London promoting the World Outgames.

How did you get into archery?

I started with archery in 2001. So it's about 11 years ago that my first arrow took flight. At that time I was playing tennis, just as recreation - a classmate asked whether I'd like to try out an archery club.

Why did you decide to join the military?

It's impossible to make a living from archery, but I wanted to turn my hobby into my sport - I'd discovered various possibilities within the Belgian sport world, but the Belgian Army's sport project was the one most appropriate to my situation. For me they offer the best facilities and without them it would have been impossible to train every day.

Have you had any issues in being an openly gay man in the Belgian military?

There's still a subtle taboo in the army regarding homosexuality, and of course there are always silly jokes being made about being gay and the weaklings in any group are teased for being homo, but that's part of this particular world.

During my training I kept myself as much as possible in the background so as to avoid such reactions, and I lied about who I was. In that period I was going on about having had sex with girls while in fact I had a boyfriend at home. In the weekends I'd go to hetero discos to keep up the appearance of being hetero. Only after my training did a few of the boys discover my real orientation. But in fact it made little difference whether they accepted this or not, since I was then free to train for my sport, which meant I had little contact with soldiers.

How does the military support your sporting aspirations?

The Ministry of Defense allows me to compile my own training schedule - this means I have the flexibility to prepare as well as possible for competitions, but of course there are some compulsory duties too. For example, we have to report once a week to barracks, help at military sport events and take part in the national parade, and we have an annual evaluation to determine whether we can remain in the top-sport program.

What are your aspirations for your sport?

I've been junior world champion, so the aim is to perform at an international level with the adults, too. Then my goal is to take part in the Olympic Games, preferably those in Rio in 2016. At the Olympic Games anything can happen, so to return home with a medal would be fantastic. To be able to achieve this I'll need to work hard at my shooting technique and I need to gain experience at an international level.

Have you ever had any negative reactions or discrimination from people within your sport as an openly gay man?

There are always people who are negative about someone being openly gay. Certainly in sport and in the military world there are quite a few people who have a problem with this. I've never missed out on any opportunities through being out as gay, so I can't say that I've been discriminated against in any aspect of my life or career. And in fact after a while you don't hear the negative reactions any more; you just learn to live with them.

You've been appointed as an ambassador for the World Outgames - what does your role as an ambassador involve?

I'll be participating in two of the three cornerstones of the event: sport and human rights [the other cornerstone is culture]. Sport because I wish to demonstrate that sport is possible both at a recreational and a high international level, and during the human rights conference I very much wish to throw some light on the Belgian Army's policy regarding LGBT. During the lead-up to 2013 and the week of the events themselves I'll be supporting the World Outgames wherever necessary.

Why are LGBT-specific sporting competitions important?

In fact, no LGBT-specific sporting competition should be organized. We should normally be welcome everywhere and be accepted for what we are, but in real life this has been impossible so far. So it's still important to organize and support such initiatives so that we can send a clear message to the world outside: Look, we're no different; we train as hard as everyone else and we fight just as hard as everyone to win.

This will be the first time that archery has featured in a World Outgames - are there a lot of LGBT archery competitors?

In Belgium there are a few LGBT archers, but too few to allow a tournament to be organized. Internationally they're not yet recognized everywhere as in some countries there's no mention of LGBT people. But they're certainly there and I hope to be able to motivate them enough to travel to Antwerp for the World Outgames 2013.

What do you do in your spare time?

I very much like listening to music. This can certainly help me to focus before and during a tournament. I also love going to the cinema to see the latest films. Right now I like viewing our own Flemish films because they're of high quality, sometimes better than the American films. Photography and web design are also activities that arouse my interest.

And for the rest I'm happy to be with my boyfriend and my family to catch up on things a little, since I'm also often absent from family events such as birthdays, weddings and so forth because of the competitions.

The World Outgames will be held in Antwerp from 4 to 10 August 2013. Gay Star News is proud to be supporting the event as a media partner.

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