My guest today is Amazin LeThi. She is a keynote speaker, LGBTQ advocate, author, athlete and someone I think everyone should get to know. In this episode, Amazin and I talk about her life, her advocacy for sports, gender equality and diversity and inclusion.
We also talk about her experience growing up in Australia, being bullied, her journey in sports and how she turned her life around by doing amazing work with corporations, advocacy organizations and even the White House. She’s also the only Asian LGBTQ athlete to simultaneously have multiple sports ambassador roles.
Amazin has lived an inspiring life and is bringing hope to countless people, and I’m excited for you to learn more about her and her story.
Punk Rock HR is proudly underwritten by The Starr Conspiracy. The Starr Conspiracy is a B2B marketing agency for innovative brands creating the future of workplace solutions. For more information, head over to thestarrconspiracy.com.
Feeling Different and Enduring Bullying
Amazin today is an outspoken advocate for the causes and communities she believes in, but it wasn’t her initial goal.
“I never set out to be an advocate. And I believe that many people don’t, and it’s usually their journey that leads to some form of activism. And for me, it really was my journey,” she says.
Growing up in an all-white background facing discrimination because of her Asian heritage and an internal struggle with her sexuality, but Amazin didn’t realize all of these details yet.
“I knew I was different, but I couldn’t put a finger on what that difference was because I never saw an Asian person or an LGBTQ person,” Amazin says. All she understood was this sense of difference until she entered the world of sports for the first time.
“I think, like all of us, and particularly when you have this sense of difference, you’re always trying to find a sense of belonging and a sense of community,” she says. “And I went into sports at a very young age. But I saw it as a very hostile environment. Because the bullying and the discrimination followed me because I was the only Asian kid in the sports teams. And I saw very quickly how the sporting world saw Asian athletes. And that was my first dose of it, as a child.”
Many youth who endure bullying in sports will drop out. What pulled Amazin through is that sports gave her “why” and the first lesson in advocating for herself.
“I think all the bullying and discrimination that I received really toughened me up because I had no one that championed me or was on my side,” Amazin says. “And I knew that, what I wanted in this world, I would have to do it for myself. And I could see very clearly it would be a very tough road. But this is what I loved.”
Finding the Right Kind of Community
Amazin suffered from trauma as a child and young adult and lacked a strong support system, And when she did feel she found a sense of community, it wasn’t the people she really needed, which led to years of up and down mental health, poverty and homelessness, among other challenges.
The one thing that was able to pull her out of this situation was her love of sports. “I really now look back at my life and realize that sports have been my survival mechanism. My younger years of being an athlete, being a bodybuilder, learning this very unique skill set of how to push through the pain barrier in very difficult moments,” she says.
Her epiphany came after finding herself in a shelter, unable to do anything for two days but sleep. Amazin knew that she couldn’t continue on this way. But this journey forward wouldn’t be easy, and it would take years.
“At that point, it was like, it’s a do-or-die moment for me, and I have to do something now. No one’s going to pull me out except for me,” she explains. “And look, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And I’m very fortunate that I was able to do it because I know so many people don’t make it. But I think I’ve always been very tenacious and have always been very persistent and very strong-willed. And I think the lifetime of sports gave me those unique skills, and I was able to pull myself out.”
Inspiring Others Through Her Story
Flash forward to today, and Amazin is an adviser to governments, Fortune 500 companies and other organizations. We always talk about the career journey, but the life journey is just as important. In Amazin’s case, she could not have imagined being where she is now but is grateful to share her story with change-makers.
“When I pulled myself out of homelessness, I really just had one goal: of sharing my story and hoping someone would listen to what it was like to be someone like me,” she shares.
Amazin started by cold-calling governments in hopes of just getting a few minutes to talk. Her persistence eventually led to connections with those essential “change-makers in policy,” where she could advocate for equality, social change and addressing the challenges faced by LGBTQ and LGBTQ Asian people.
“I sit with governments because they’re change-makers. I work with Fortune 500 companies around diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and around all these other issues,” Amazon says. “Because when you’re looking at how to solve difficult problems, you need everyone at the table. So, I’m like this middle person that brings sports organizations, nonprofit organizations, governments, and Fortune 500 companies together in the room to have these conversations.”
Amazin’s work is essential not only for sports but to any community or organization facing similar challenges. While she didn’t set out to be an advocate, her drive, hope, beliefs and sense of community have made her a powerful voice.
“The small steps that you make equal to great change because every voice can make a difference,” Amazon says. “And I realized that from a very young age, that one small voice can make ripple in the world to make waves.”'I never set out to be an advocate. And I believe that many people don’t, and it’s usually their journey that leads to some form of activism. And for me, it really was my journey.' ~ @amazinlethi, keynote speaker and LGBTQ advocate. Tune in! Click To Tweet
People in This Episode
This episode of Punk Rock HR is sponsored by the Starr Conspiracy. The Starr Conspiracy is the B2B marketing agency for innovative brands creating the future of workplace solutions. For more information, head on over to thestarrconspiracy.com.
Hey, everybody. I’m Laurie Ruettimann. Welcome back to Punk Rock HR. My guest today is Amazin LeThi. She’s a keynote speaker and LGBTQ advocate that I think you should get to know on. On today’s podcast, we just have a chat about her life and her advocacy for sport, for gender equality, for diversity and inclusion, and her history growing up in Australia, being bullied, going in and out of sports, and then really turning her life around to do great work with corporations, advocacy organizations, governmental entities and even the White House. So, if you want to meet someone new — and who doesn’t want to meet someone new — sit back and enjoy this conversation with Amazin LeThi on this week’s Punk Rock HR.
Hey, Amazin, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you for having me on your show.
Sure, it’s my pleasure. Listen, before we get started, why don’t you briefly tell everybody who you are?
My name is Amazin LeThi, and my pronouns are she and her. I am a global LGBTQ advocate, keynote speaker, athlete and cultural change leader. And I’m the only Asian LGBTQ athlete in the world to simultaneously hold multiple sports ambassador roles.
What a life that you live. I’m so excited to hear your story today. I have a bunch of questions about what you do for a living and how you contribute in the world. But the story of Amazin doesn’t begin when you get a job. The story of Amazin begins in childhood, right? So what was your childhood like?
I never set out to be an advocate. And I believe that many people don’t, and it’s usually their journey that leads to some form of activism. And for me, it really was my journey. I grew up in an all-white background. I spent my formative years in Australia. And I was bullied, and I suffered a terrible amount of discrimination because I just physically looked different. I couldn’t hide the fact that I was Asian. But also inside, I really struggled with my sexuality. I knew I was different, but I couldn’t put a finger on what that difference was because I never saw an Asian person or an LGBTQ person.
I think, like all of us, and particularly when you have this sense of difference, you’re always trying to find a sense of belonging and a sense of community. And I went into sports at a very young age. But I saw it as a very hostile environment. Because the bullying and the discrimination followed me because I was the only Asian kid in the sports teams. And I saw very quickly as to how the sporting world saw Asian athletes. And that was my first dose of it, as a child.
I want to ask a question, because all the bullying, all the experiences you had in sport early on, didn’t turn you away from sport like it would for many children and many young adults.
For many. Particularly for many Asian kids, I speak to so many people that tell me that story that they started sports, they were bullied, and then dropped out. I just loved what sports did for me above everything else. And it just gave me this big “why.” And I think all the bullying and discrimination that I received really toughened me up because I had no one that championed me or was on my side. And I knew that what I wanted in this world, I would have to do it for myself. And I could see very clearly it would be a very tough road. But this is what I loved.
I would imagine with no direct role model and no idea of what good and bad means; when you’re in this world of bullying, you see people who may perform at a high level but have a terrible personality and a terrible character set getting accolades in this world. How did you learn how to measure performance?
Learning how to measure performance started when I entered the world of bodybuilding. Really unusual. I started at 6 when I started weight training. And it was literally, I stumbled upon it through some dumbbells I found lying around. And I was pushed out of team sports because it was a very hostile environment. My coach actually pushed me out through the stereotype of being Asian in sports. Through bodybuilding, I saw myself for the first time. And it just gave me a sense of worth and a sense of confidence. And I learned about performance through bodybuilding, through being able to push myself past pain barriers, being able to look at weights and think, OK, I can lift a hundred pounds. How could I perform better to be able to lift 200 pounds? But also, I educated myself because I had no idea what I was doing in the gym.
I spent so much of my time in the reception, reading all these health and fitness magazines. So, I learned about what it was to be an elite athlete and how elite athletes used their sports psychology and how they used performance and how they measured themselves. I learned a lot from that, and then just applying it to myself. And it was just a matter of trial and error, as well. And you have to realize, I’m only 8 at the time. But I started at a very young age, which really gave me this very unique skill set that I use today, having a lifetime of sports in my life.
Well, we’ve talked about your journey into sports, and we’ve talked about bodybuilding, but one of the things about your background that I find so compelling is that you have some experiences with being unsheltered, with being homeless. So, can you speak to that?
I suffered a terrible amount of trauma as a child and a young adult. And I think when you don’t have any kind of support network and you don’t feel like you belong anywhere, you’re always searching for a sense of community. And I totally believe, particularly in our younger years and even as an adult, we’re one paycheck away, many of us, away from poverty. We’re one person away from falling into the bad crowd. And as a young adult, when I left Australia, I was searching for that sense of community. And I think all the trauma that I held inside was just like this ticking time bomb.
And I found a sense of community, but it wasn’t the community that I needed, but it was a community that I felt at the time was right for me because the people brought me in. And I think I just exploded. It was 24-hour partying, drinking, drugs. One thing led to another. And I really didn’t have that much money at the time anyway, so I wasn’t that far over the edge of falling into poverty. And I just ended up homeless.
And it was probably my darkest years — in and out of shelters, feeling very suicidal, heavily depressed. my mental health very up and down, very much in debt, living in poverty. And I just hit rock bottom. It was probably my darkest years. But I learned so much of myself in that time and so much about how society sees you when you’re on the margin of society, as well.
What pulled you out? A lot of us have these moments where we hit rock bottom. And I wouldn’t say there’s an epiphanic moment. We don’t live in the movies. But there’s a person or a series of people who intervene. What was the intervening quality in your story?
For me, it was the lifetime of sports. I really now look back at my life and realize that sports has been my survival mechanism. My younger years of being an athlete, being a bodybuilder, learning this very unique skill set of how to push through the pain barrier in very difficult moments. And also having a big “why.” I think you need to have this hope and this purpose. Because I always believed that I could make some kind of impact. And going back to my formative years when I started bodybuilding, it was the power of storytelling. That I read about Arnold Schwarzenegger, someone who was extremely different but celebrated his difference and understood that the world would, at some point, celebrate who he was, but also used that impact of sports. And for me, it was just this epiphany moment that I had when I was — and it’s so clear to me today.
I was in a shelter. I remember just two days of just sleeping. My whole body had just worn out. I could not do anymore. Even opening my eyes in the morning was difficult. But I finally managed to wake up, the third day, and I remember it was 6 p.m. because I remember looking at the time thinking, “Oh God, it’s already dark.” And just crying uncontrollably, in a fetal position, in the corner of the shelter, thinking, “What has happened to the life I had imagined and the life that I have now?” And I have absolutely nothing, but I still have this hope to make an impact. And I have no idea what it is because I have nothing to give.
And just thinking back in my head of that athletes, those difficult times, and pulling from that moment when I was a child, of that impact through sports and how sports had always been there for me. And that’s really how I pulled myself out. Because I knew at that moment I couldn’t have gone any further. And if I did, I knew what that was. And no one was —
Well wait, what was that? If you went any further? What would happen?
I think it would’ve been suicide. I had attempted a few times. And I think when you attempt and you survive, you really don’t want to go. But at that point, it was like, it’s a do-or-die moment for me, and I have to do something now. No one’s going to pull me out except for me. And look, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And I’m very fortunate that I was able to do it because I know so many people don’t make it. But I think I’ve always been very tenacious and have always been very persistent and very strong-willed. And I think the lifetime of sports gave me those unique skills, and I was able to pull myself out. But look, it took me years, and I had a mental breakdown doing it. But that really started to lead me on the journey of advocacy because I just started to look through a completely different lens after what had happened to me.
You are now an adviser to governments, Fortune 500 companies and organizations. That is quite a life journey. So many times, in the world of work, we talk about a career journey. But that’s so limiting. You’ve got this life journey behind you. So, I wonder how you help those entities? How do you help move them forward? How do you touch the lives of their workers and their constituents?
Sure. It truly is a life journey. And I’ve also worked with the White House, as well. I could never have imagined the life I have now and the people that I’ve touched, those that I’ve worked with. And it was really through the experiences that I had. And when I pulled myself out of homelessness, I really just had one goal: of sharing my story and hoping someone would listen to what it was like to be someone like me and for those that were the change-makers in policy.
And it started, for me, traveling back home to Vietnam and cold-calling governments and hoping that they would have a few minutes of time to share space with me. And my persistence paid off. And that really started the journey of all the governmental work that I do today around how to champion equality through the lens of sports and why sports is such a powerful tool in terms of social change.
But also discussing the challenges that LGBTQ people face in the community, and particularly those from the Asian community. And I sit with governments because they’re change-makers. I work with Fortune 500 companies around diversity, equity and inclusion issues and around all these other issues. Because when you’re looking at how to solve difficult problems, you need everyone at the table. So, I’m like this middle person that brings sports organizations, nonprofit organizations, governments and Fortune 500 companies together in the room to have these conversations.
And I’ve been so blessed that I’ve been able to share space in countries that I go to. Pre-pandemic, I went to Qatar. And I sat with 20 governments and had these conversations with them. And the opportunity that I have that they listen to what I have to say. Because I think that there are so many of us that don’t have this voice. And I now have the platform to be able to make real change in the world and the impact that I wanted to make, as a child, through the power of sports.
One of the things I find with advocates, allies, change-makers out there is that they push, they push, they push. And it becomes difficult not to get a little pessimistic. Here in the United States, hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise, still, to this day. It’s been going on for the past several years. And I just wonder if you find yourself ever getting pessimistic about the work that you do?
It’s interesting because I actually don’t. And the reason is that I realize that every small step that I make, there’s a change along the way. And I think it’s sports that gave me this outlook. When I first walked into the gym and started to lift weights, I realized that I’m not going to change overnight. It’s just these small steps along the way that you make to your diet. You go to the gym, and you lift a hundred pounds. The next day, you lift 105 pounds. And when I sit in the room with governments, Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and have these conversations — look, I admit I may have to have the same conversation five times with them. And I may have to change the story to find a narrative that they understand.
But every single time I have the conversation, I can see a sparkle in their eyes. I can see that they’re more and more curious. I can see that they have made small steps. And I think you need to see it like that. The small steps that you make equal to great change because every voice can make a difference. And I realized that from a very young age, that one small voice can make ripple in the world to make waves.
Well, I’ve been thinking a little bit about your keynotes, because one of the exciting things about me is that I found you online while Googling “emerging keynote speakers,” “interesting keynote speakers,” “well-rated keynote speakers.” And I am so pleased that you’re on the circuit, talking to these organizations. That is so important. So tell us, when you’re on stage, what are you talking about?
For me, it’s all about the power of storytelling. Because we can change someone’s perspective in the world for them to look through a different lens when they suddenly hear a story that’s close to theirs — or different from theirs — for them to become curious in the world. So, I do a lot of work around the power of storytelling. I do a lot of work around allyship in action because so many governments and organizations and Fortune 500 companies are still struggling with, “How do we better support the LGBTQ community? How do we better support ethnic minority groups?”
I think the pandemic has shown us that there’s an important rise, with the BLM movement, the Stop Asian Hate, and what companies need to do is to support their staff and their community and their customers and their clients. But I also do a lot of community-building within the business sector, of curating events and bringing different people together to have these conversations, as well.
I think a lot of companies realize that they have so much power in the community, but they need to access governmental officials. I’ve spent years building up a vast global network to support those that I work with.
Well, I am so pleased that you took some time to talk to us on the podcast today. What’s next for you? You have a busy 2022 and 2023 on your agenda, so what’s included on that?
I’m still working around the major sports events. I think there’s still so much work to be done around conversations around the world of sports. I’m a Commonwealth Games ambassador, so I’m doing a lot of work around equality around the Commonwealth Games. I’m working with the Qatar World Cup. And then next year, at all the major sports events, I’m doing a lot of work in the U.S. around trans inclusion and also continuing in my work as a keynote speaker, as well.
Well, what a fantastic agenda you have for yourself in the next 18 months. You’re quite a busy individual. But if people want to get in touch with you, if they are curious about your keynoting, where can they reach you?
People can reach out by going to my website, amazinlethi.com, and across all my social media. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn: @amazinlethi.
Amazin, it’s just been such a joy to learn your story and to learn more about you. Thanks again for being a guest today.
Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Hey, everybody. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Punk Rock HR. We are proudly underwritten by The Starr Conspiracy. The Starr Conspiracy is the B2B marketing agency for innovative brands creating the future of workplace solutions. For more information, head on over to thestarrconspiracy.com. Punk Rock HR is produced and edited by Rep Cap with special help from Michael Thibodeaux and Devon McGrath. For more information, show notes, links and resources, head on over to punkrockhr.com. Now, that’s all for today. And I hope you enjoyed it. We’ll see you next time on Punk Rock HR.