Amazin LeThi suffered a lot of bullying as a child. She was the only Vietnamese kid in an all-white school in Australia.
But it was one moment, when she was eight years old, that sticks out the most.
‘My teacher made me stand up in class in front of everyone,’ she tells Gay Star News in an exclusive interview.
‘She said this child, among every child I know in this room, will be the one that fails in life. The teacher said I would amount to nothing but a potato peeler.
‘She then egged everyone to laugh at me. After that, she threw a blackboard eraser at my head.
‘I thought I couldn’t cry because everyone’s laughing. Everyone thinks I’m going to fail.’
Amazin didn’t fail though. Far from it.
Amazin LeThi: Fighting against adversity
She became a bodybuilder, a fierce athlete, and an advocate for the LGBTI community.
As today is the first day of Asian Heritage month, and for Digital Pride, she is now speaking about finding your way out of loneliness and isolation. She is also hosting the first Asian LGBTQ Southern Voices event in Atlanta today.
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, she was left in an orphanage by her mother.
Adopted by a family in Australia, she found respite through sports and the arts.
‘Sport became my haven’
‘Sport became my haven,’ Amazin says. ‘I found a sense of community. I loved it because it was based on your athletic ability rather than your appearance.’
From a young age, Amazin started weight training. She would go to a gym, a room full of muscly men, as a young girl and work out.
She remembers, now, that she was just trying to get stronger in the face of adversity.
‘I soon realized how nasty men are in that situation when there’s one woman in the room,’ she said.
‘It bordered on sexual assault. There was no consequences, of course. But everyday I kept coming back. I learned you have to prove yourself.’
As a young adult, Amazin was homeless. She moved in and out of different shelters. It was at this time she discovered she identified as ‘rainbow’, a Vietnamese term for ‘queer’.
‘I remember thinking there was no point anymore’
At her lowest point, she contemplated killing herself.
‘I remember thinking there was no point anymore,’ she said.
‘You can either pull yourself out of it or go down. Somehow, someway, I managed to pull myself out of it. I found a reason to live in that moment.’
Amazin rediscovered her love for sport, health and fitness. And, as an adult, she flourished.
After leaving bodybuilding behind, she became a health and fitness expert. Training Olympic athletes, special forces and well known celebrities, she became the first internationally published Vietnamese health and fitness author.
Visibility of east Asian LGBTI people media and sport
A lot of her work now is in advocacy. One of her main interests is in the visibility of east Asian LGBTI people in media and sport.
‘The Asian community is very unique,’ Amazin says. ‘We’re seen as this invisible model minority race.
‘We only make 1% of leading roles in film. In television, there are very few out public figures.
‘And we are bullied the most out of all ethnic groups.’
She adds: ‘We are a conformist community. The bar is set so high in that you’re pushed into going into medical or legal professions to look after our families. Shame is used.’
The reason why Asian people often don’t come out because social issues aren’t discussed, Amazin says.
‘A lot of Asian LGBTI people just suffer in silence and don’t come out,’ she said.
But there is hope, and there is a growing call for more representation of Asian voices in the media.
Growing call for more representation of Asian voices
She also hopes to see more east Asian athletes in all sport disciplines.
Giving advice to people hoping to come out, Amazin said: ‘You need to find that one champion that will support you.
‘Anyone who is considering coming out needs to have that support network. I would first suggest having a conversation with your coach, and then the coach can put you in touch with many of the great LGBTI sports organizations like Athlete Ally.
‘I hope an Asian person can see me and see they can be successful. Being out is just a small part of who I am.
‘I’m also far happier being my authentic self.’
Invited to the White House
Amazin has come a long way since a teacher said she would amount to nothing but a potato peeler.
The memory might make her still tear up a little, but she knows how far she’s come.
‘Being invited to the White House is my best moment so far,’ Amazin remembers.
‘That was such an impactful moment for me. I was invited to the global forum as a guest of the Harvey Milk Foundation.
‘I was the only Vietnamese LGBTI advocate. Joe Biden then invited everyone to his home.’
She also helped to devise the first LGBTI bullying program for the Asian community in the US.
But what does Amazin have to say to that teacher now?
‘I proved you wrong. Look at me now,’ she says.
‘One of the things I say to LGBTI youth is don’t listen to the naysayers in your life. Even as an adult, people will say negative things about you.
‘You can still be hugely successful. Your difference is what will make you successful.
‘Be unapologetically you and that will carry you through.’
What is Digital Pride?
Digital Pride is the online movement, created by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.
In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.