The LGBTQ’s inclusion in boxing is a big hairy audacious goal. But guess what, Martin Stark is close to bringing that goal into reality. Martin is the founder and CEO of the World Gay Boxing Championships who’s passionate in making everyone feel they belong. Martin talks with Ben Baker about how situations and plans may change, but you need to stay true to your vision. If you want to bring your vision to fruition, inspire others to rally to you. Community is always the key to making big things happen. Tune in!
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What Is Your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) With Martin Stark
[00:01:19] This is a repeat performance. How many of you people out there have a BHAG or a big, hairy, audacious goal? This pie in the sky, “I think I can do X and I’m going to run towards that.” That’s what Martin Stark has done. He was on this show several years ago and we were talking about the World Gay Boxing Championships. Back then, I talked to Martin and went, “This is a BHAG. This is something that’s out there. It may happen or may not happen but we’re getting real close to this becoming reality.” Martin, welcome to the show.
[00:02:04] Thank you for inviting me back to have another conversation with you. I want to start by acknowledging the land where I am. I pay my respect to elders past, present and future. I like to extend that spectacle to Aboriginal and First Nations people.
[00:02:21] Are you in Sydney or are you in Melbourne?
[00:02:23] I’m in Sydney.
[00:02:25] You’re in proper Australia. It’s that Southern horn. It’s that beautiful area of the world that I keep trying to get down to. We’re going to get me down there one of these days. Maybe it’s going to be from February 18th to the 22nd, 2023. We got to figure out a way to get me down there for the boxing championships. Maybe we could get a whole bunch of interviews going. Who knows what’s going to happen? That’s going to be something to seriously talk about.
[00:02:52] You have to come down here. The last several years have been quite tough in Australia. We’re pretty much left to ourselves, but we were a resilient bunch and mob, working things through. Sydney is a beautiful city. If I walk right out of my street, I can see the Harbor Bridge and Opera House in about ten minutes. If I walk left, there’s a beautiful beach to my left side. I’m in a pretty prime spot.It is humbling when you realize you are part of something bigger. Click To Tweet
[00:03:19] Let’s talk about the World Gay Boxing Championships and the impetus. I want to talk to you about where you have been from there to now, and what you have learned. I think the lessons learned are almost as important as the journey itself.
[00:03:53] Several years ago, when I thought this was going to be a great idea, everybody was going to get on board. In our original conversation, I said we’re going to host the championships in February 2022. The biggest lesson is to still believe in your vision and dream. Have your plan because, with any plan, you can adapt and change.
When we had our conversation, we didn’t even think about COVID and what the world was going to go through. Still, my why which was to disrupt homophobia, transphobia, hatred in sport, and provide opportunities for everybody to participate in a safe environment has not changed. That is still the same belief why I’m doing this. It’s understanding why you’re doing something, what your purpose is, what your audience is, and what the impact is going to be. That should be key for any big goal but also a big, hairy, audacious goal.
The other key learning was the importance of relationships. We became friends several years ago, and you invited me onto your show. If anyone wants to think of the impact of this one episode, I was interviewed a few months later and they were reporting some of the quotes in their articles. There were certainly reports in Out.com, which is one of the biggest LGBTQ publications and media organizations in the world. Your ability to get other opportunities to have in one conversation is something that you can never underestimate. Keep communicating and being consistent.
The relationships are built here within Boxing Australia and Boxing New South Wales. They are the amateur body within my country and state. They’re helping me organize the championships. Also, I forged relationships with the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, IBO International Boxing Organization, and the World Boxing Organization. I’m just a person in Sydney. I emailed an email and I was able to get statements of support from the biggest boxing bodies in the whole globe. Never underestimate the power of an individual to communicate and connect with people.
[00:06:12] That’s an amazing thing that we think about. It’s that the world has become so much smaller and the opportunity to reach out to people on a more level basis has become easier. When you and I first met several years ago, it was through LinkedIn. I honestly don’t even remember who first introduced us, but I have probably 300–plus connections now through LinkedIn and a lot of them over the last several years have been people that I’ve met through you.
I’ve had lots of connections and great guests on the show. I’ve made lots of relationships and we’ve done some great business together. A lot of it comes through understanding the power of connections and the power of communication. I agree with you 100% that as an individual, we need to be able to sit there and go, “This is my goal. This is my objective and what I can do myself. This is what I can’t do myself. Who do I need to align myself with? How do I go about doing that?”
My question to you is, how did you go about building those relationships? You start off as a single person with this huge idea and are able to create the ability to align yourself and bring other people into the vision. How did you bring people into your vision and enable them to understand that your vision was their vision too?
[00:07:44] The biggest learning was having simple and consistent communication. I was writing about this. I was posting on LinkedIn about this and sharing my why. People got the why pretty much. Either you got it or you can understand that few questions and you understood, but people still wanted to help. It’s working with those people who want to help in a meaningful way. I have a wonderful board. They’ve all committed their time, effort and energy to make this happen.
I have a board with unique skillsets required to operate a not-for-profit and deliver an event. For example, Flavia De Souza is my lawyer. She came and helped set up the not-for-profit association. Jenny Vaz is an executive coach. She has done an amazing job nurturing and cultivating the global LGBTQ WGBC community.
Sharon White got an extensive consulting background. She’s been helping with the project plan and the business plan. We have Paul Johnston who has an extensive CFO background. He has worked in this space and has been helping with the business plan and the financial plan. They are helping me to deliver an event which has never happened before. They were bringing their unique skillset with their passion, energy and expertise. There are so many to thank. I’m going to say a big thank you to everybody who has come on board to help share the message and invite me to be on their podcasts.
Once we had created the not-for-profit, I had a very simple vision. I approached Boxing Australia and within two weeks, the board of Boxing Australia had voted to support and help us organize the championships, and issued a press release. We have great relationships with my friends in Boxing New South Wales. We have the referees, judges and officials to enable the championships to take place.
Think about all the policies and the procedures. For me who has been in boxing for a few years, the idea of writing all of that from scratch is absolute nonsense. That already exists because amateur boxing competitions happen all over the world all the time. It’s working with a framework that exists and building relationships with people who can help deliver and run your event. The most important thing is to communicate, develop that rapport, and enable that to happen. The main learning was building and cultivating relationships, and moving that forward.The unifying power of #courage enables… Click To Tweet
[00:10:06] With that is having the trust in these people that you know they have your best interests and the interest of the idea at heart because that’s the thing. It’s being able to share a vision in such a way that other people believe it, and they feel that they belong to it. That long list of amazing people that have rolled up their sleeves and said, “I’m not doing this for the money. I’m doing this because this is something that needs to happen. This is something that is bigger than me. It’s bigger than Martin.”
It’s a small group of people and it’s going to affect a larger community that’s going to have a tidal wave effect. I think that every movement has to start small. It has to have a core group of people that believe in the power of the vision, goal and audacity of being able to start something that is going to be a World Gay Boxing Championship, take that idea and make it a reality.
When you’re putting this team together and you’re looking at the experiences and the abilities of individuals, how have you been able to cultivate those people? Were these individual relationships you already had, or were these people that you met through other people and said, “Help, I’m looking for the skillset. Who do you know?”
[00:11:32] These were individual relationships that I have through communicating and catching up. A lot of people say, “I want to help.” Maybe they did not know how they could help at a certain point in time or “I needed help with this. Can you do Y?” It’s like, “I don’t have as much time at the moment.” A lot of people, when they look warm, you know when they wanted to do something. The board of command is pretty much straight away, “Yes, I’m going to help you with this.” They committed that time. There are many other people who have done that. Their support, involvement and ability to participate have been consistent. That’s how you build that movement.
We’ve talked about allyship for the LGBTQ+, the global majority, and the minoritized communities for many years. You see people consistently speaking up, helping out, supporting, and creating that impetus for change. It’s building that tribe and momentum. We have people who can maybe give you a couple of hours here and there to do some unique tasks, which is fantastic. Sometimes you need that one introduction. You need that one piece of advice to enable you to get from X to Y or from A to B.
People can help in many different ways but I think if it comes from the heart and you believe what somebody is doing, especially in this space. Imagine if I were the world’s biggest boxing promoter and I wanted to hold the World’s Gay Boxing Championship. It would be much easier to go and do that because I already got the money to go and do that. Starting it from scratch, you have to build everything up. I think that’s where the beach of humanity comes in.
You helped me learn the lesson of changing hearts and minds. You call up statistics, behaviors, and what happened to individuals. Most people have deep levels of empathy, but I’m not sure what to go and do next. When you start getting people, “This is how you can help and make a difference.” It’s starting from a place of inclusion. Take people where they’re at and guide them to how they can then go to the next level with their own journey or encourage their own journey of inclusion. You then start to build that momentum for change.
As the individual, you then speak to somebody else. If I get called the F-word or the P-word when I’m out boxing or training, you’re going to say, “That’s not right. Martin is my friend.” This is the impact homophobia has on an individual. You’re shaping and changing the other person. With any movement, it’s always going to be a sense of community, belonging and identity.
[00:14:49] When you’re creating that community, there are going to be some people that are going to be your core members. They are the people that are bought in and drinking the Kool-Aid. They are rolling up their sleeves and say, “What can I do next? How can I help? Have you thought of this?” There’s then the majority of people that go, “That’s cool what Martin is doing. That’s interesting but I got my life to live.”
It’s a matter of being able to utilize all of those people for what their ability to give is. Some people have done amazing and incredible things for you. Some people, all they’ve been able to do is make a phone call or make an introduction, but they’re all valuable. My question is, how have you gone about enabling these people to feel that whatever level they are, they are part of the movement? That’s how this thing is going to build and how the snowball is going to happen in the tidal wave. It’s more people feeling they’re part of the movement no matter how small a piece of the puzzle that they are. How are you going about enabling other people to feel that they belong?
[00:16:00] The main thing comes back to relationships. The global WGBC community has 75 people who have registered throughout the world, and they enable the conversation. I’ve consistently communicated the why. I was interviewed by a news station in Australia and CNN. I’ve had some considerable media coverage. At the same time, some people want to help to the extent this is what they do and sometimes you need to fit them in the scope of what they do. It might not be the right help at this point in time.
It’s about engaging in conversation and listening saying, “I don’t need this at the moment. Maybe at this stage.” It could be having a five-minute conversation. My fight took place in December 2021. I should have been fighting on the 26th of June 2021, but we had an extensive lockdown in Sydney due to COVID. I was training with an amazing group of people with some awesome coaches and trainers. We bonded as a group.
I have a rare condition called Addison’s disease. The trainers and other participants were aware of when to push and when I needed to step back. There could have been a heavy training session and sparring run but if I needed to take a break, that wasn’t a problem at all. They were like, “Do you need more water?” Those other bits. There’s that level of care, concern and friendship.🥊#inclusion mutual respect and a spirit of generosity Click To Tweet
It’s saying, “Thank you,” inviting people to join you, and being able to say, “These are the particular things that we need right now.” A great example is Tony. He’s a good friend who has extensive experience in boxing. He’s been involved in amateur boxing for many years. He’s a proud gay man. He has been able to write our operations manual and guides. He has that level of boxing, which I don’t have, and then enable conversations with a friend in Boxing Australia and Boxing New South Wales.
One of the main judges in Australia has helped with the boxing program and did the whole matrix for us. This person has unique skillsets and dedicated some days and hours to doing a matrix for us. I didn’t have that skillset. He had that skillset. He cares enough about the sport and community to donate a certain piece of time to do certain tasks which we needed.
Sometimes it has been accepting how can it benefits you at the same time it benefits me? I used the phrase being selfish and generous. What’s in it for me but also what’s in it for you? You can always give and you can always get but what do you get in return? Whereas if you can help yourself and help others, that is a win-win outcome.
[00:18:43] I wish I could remember the Zig Ziglar quote that says, “You could have everything that you want in life if you help other people get what they want.” I’m paraphrasing it but it truly says that if you help other people succeed, it’s amazing how that comes back to you. You talked about 75 core people around the world. I’m assuming that those people have been empowered and enabled to be able to build their own teams.
[00:19:08] To clarify, 75 people have registered to participate in the championships.
[00:19:15] You have 75 people that have registered to be part of the championships in there, but those people themselves are becoming ambassadors for the brand within their own country.
[00:19:27] There already was the LGBTQ Boxing community before I started speaking in this space. There are other clubs all over the world. We’ve been able to connect with people who are already involved in the sport. I don’t know if maybe the LGBTQ Boxing Club or just boxers who had seen what we’ve put out there through our Facebook page, Instagram, website, and all of the communications. They were empowered.
We have a person from the LGBTQ+ community in Sri Lanka. I can’t publicly say too much about this person but it’s comfortable for me to speak about them in general. One of my friends from the Australian Boxing Community heard me speak about it and they call this individual. The story was that this person bought that first pair of boxing gloves and was so excited. When I mentioned this, my friend said, “I can send them some boxing gloves and other boxing gear.”
We were able to establish rapport. This person now has some training gear from a very close boxing friend here in Australia. You can imagine for somebody who saved up to buy their first pair of boxing gloves, they’re very excited. Through an incredible and personal advocacy allyship, they were able to continue to progress their training because somebody has sent some boxing gear over to them in Sri Lanka to continue to progress what they’re doing. For me, that’s what the heart of this movement is all about.
[00:20:54] It’s all about coming together as a community and realizing that we’re all stronger together. The more we help each other, the more it elevates the thing, the more the awareness becomes, and the better it is for everybody. It’s amazing when people who have very little, give of themselves to help somebody who has even less. It’s an incredible thing. To me, that is how a movement is built.
I want to shift gears a little bit because every movement has a challenge and every goal has challenges. It’s not like I woke up one morning and I said, “I’m going to create the World Gay Boxing Championships and tomorrow it’s going to be there. It’s a financial and physical success.” There are major challenges that happen with any organization and movement. What are the biggest challenges that you can remember and how were you able to overcome them?
[00:21:52] The biggest challenge is to get awareness out there. I was working in the operating not-for-profit, I’ve had to dedicate my own time to this. The biggest opportunity to communicate is through being a guest on this show, you speaking with me here and getting the story out there so people are aware of what’s going on.
One of the biggest opportunities was to connect with journalists, to get on LGBTQ journals, to be on CNN, The Guardian, and by being consistent in your communication. I’m quite relentless. Sometimes it might be the middle of the night and I’ll email the journalist. They may come back or they may not. From that, you go speak at events as a keynote speaker. I’ve spoken at many virtual events in the past years.🥊an environment of trust, collaboration, and excellence Click To Tweet
The other opportunities out there are speaking with organizations, which you’ve already done something like this. The Bingham Cup has been held for the last twenty-plus years almost. I spoke with somebody who organized the Bingham Cup when it was held in Sydney. They were able to share their learning. We’ve connected with the LGBTQ+ sporting community, the gay games, a complete sports diversity council here in Australia, Pride In Sport, Proud 2 Play.
There are people who have policies, frameworks, and advice. Once you have that in place and you start having conversations about sponsorship assistance that they are going to help us with, they can look to what your credence is and what you already had in place. In fact, when we set up a not-for-profit, we have an ABN and we have a board. There’s a strong level of governance.
We have good relationships with the sporting bodies to provide the referees and judges. We have the venue. People have registered their intent to participate in the championships. We have a boxing program that has been developed with the top levels of people within the sport in this country. It’s a much stronger position than, “I have an idea.” That’s great but what have you done about it?
Your consistency when you communicate and build relationships enables you to deliver an event. It makes it much easier than to go and say to a company, “I want to do X.” “That’s great. What have you done?” “I’ve done A, B, C, D, E, F, G.” You can then have a stronger conversation. With the social proof of being on CNN, being on the news, and everything else that we’ve done and I’ve done personally, people can say, “You’ve been communicating this for the last several years.” All the things we’ve achieved so far demonstrate what we can deliver.
[00:24:31] Let’s talk about sponsorship and money because I don’t care what you say, money is the grease that makes this thing happen. You can have the biggest community as you want, and have all the free marketing and advertising you want, there are still costs involved in running an event this size. I’m assuming, it’s more than me reaching in my pocket and giving you $500. That’s not going to cover it. When you’re out looking for sponsorship, I’m assuming you’re looking for the right sponsors. You want people that are going to align themselves, that are not just going to give you money but are going to give you both credibility and also exposure. Tell me about your goals with sponsorship and the type of sponsors that you want to have onboard.
[00:25:17] This is an alignment of values and delivering a positive social impact. You support the LGBTQ+ community in a meaningful way. An example could be if you display the rainbow flag during Pride month and you say, “We support you,” but you just want money from the community. The estimated purchasing power of the LGBTQ+ community or the rainbow dollar is $3.7 trillion. Think about all the allies or people like yourself who support the community.
Pride month is held and then you take off the rainbow flag. Two months later, you’re then supporting people who are discriminating against the community and stand for the values which are about discrimination or aren’t inclusive, diverse or equitable. That’s not a great track record. We want people who meaningfully support the community, have a track record, and who really care.
Evidence shows that people who support the community will be rewarded. I personally am not going to support a homophobic or an organization that has been working against the community. If you’re publicly against same-sex marriage and you believe in the right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, I don’t think you should be associated with what we’re trying to do. We want to disrupt that homophobia.
At the same time, we understand that there are brands and organizations that may have not done something in this space. They want to support and demonstrate that they care about the LGBTQ+ and wider communities. We’re looking for organizations who may be starting out on this journey and want to contribute because they believe in what we’re doing. They stand against discrimination and homophobia.
We want to see more people get involved in sport and community activities. We’re an inclusive organization. The human rights campaign, there’s the Diversity Council Australia and Australian Workplace Equality Index. There are many organizations that have done fantastic work in this space that would be a natural fit, but there are also many organizations. It could be a small business or medium enterprise that has not done much in this space but want to do something. Those are the organizations we want to speak with.
[00:27:37] There is Greenwashing and Pridewashing. There are lots of organizations that support the rainbow flag for 30 days, then go on and support something else. It’s not the fact that they’re supporting other people. Large corporations should support a large multitude of organizations. That’s part of being a global citizen, but they can’t be contradictory. You have to have a set of beliefs. You have to sit there and say, “These are the types of groups that we support.” They need to be congruent.
[00:28:12] There are two organizations, both award-winning in the LGBTQ inclusion space. In 2021, during Pride month, I was tracking what they were doing on LinkedIn. One organization won a platinum award for a campaign to enable greater LGBTQ+ inclusion within the organization. I saw the video and I loved this project. It was awesome. It was to enable greater inclusion for LGBTQ+ women. You could see people who were visibly moved all over the world, a virtual allyship community. It was fantastic. The post-marketing was not about, “We are branding this war.” Everything was to do with, “These are the people we are helping and these are the people who were involved.” It was deeply moving.
Another organization did a Pride month post and it was a rainbow flag with a link to their website. When I went on their website, I could see nothing. It was about a standard inclusion and diversity page with no visible images of LGBTQ+ people. I finally found their internal Pride group. I’m like, “Why did you not put at least your Pride group in your posts? It was just a rainbow flag and we do X, Y and Z.” Later in that month, that same organization spoke about Alan Turing who was seen as the father of the modern computer. They did a post about Alan Turing but failed to mention that he was gay and was persecuted for being gay.Your courage can inspire others to be courageous 🏳️🌈👊👊 Click To Tweet
Seriously, during Pride month, you demonstrate your credentials. At the same time, visibly important for people from LGBTQ+ history. He was the face at the £50 note in the UK. You didn’t even mention Alan Turing was gay, but you mentioned everything to do with computing and innovation. For me, that’s too chalk and cheese. I’m sure that they have done both great works but I could see the visible support of the community versus, “Yes, we support you,” but the support group was less visible.
[00:30:17] I’m sure that translates into how the community supports those organizations.
[00:30:23] For me, one was deeper and meaningful because when you market your organization like, “We do X, Y and Z,” you fail to mention the community, customers and employees. I feel DG supports us versus those who say, “We do X, Y and Z.” They involve their employees, community and customers during storytelling. I can see, “You supported this event and then you supported a different event, and you’re supporting multiple community events.” That shows the level of care and compassion. I believe those companies should be rewarded by their customers because there’s genuine support for the community versus somebody who just throws $50 to support during Pride. That $50 goes a long way but there’s nothing more than visibly standing alongside the community.
[00:31:21] I got two quick questions for you, and then I’m going to let you go. The first question is, what are your goals? What do you want to achieve with the World Gay Boxing Championships? If you could have a perfect outcome when you’re looking back on March 2023, after the event and sit there and say, “We accomplished this and I’m so happy.” What would that be?
[00:31:46] That would be people from all over the world to come and participate in the championships. We’ve changed hearts and minds. The stats at the moment are 90% of the LGBTQ+ community consider homophobia and transphobia major problems. Fifty percent of LGBTQ+ Americans have been abused and insulted while playing, watching or talking about the sport.
A wider goal for me is to start reversing some of those statistics. The dream goal is that there are more LGBTQ boxing clubs and more people involved in the sport. People will consider, “Have you seen what these people have done and what have they achieved?” We’ve been able to take LGBTQ+ inclusion in boxing from an idea to a single event to multiple events happening all over the world. There are more clubs, more LGBTQ+ visible people within the sport, and more active allies in sport.
[00:31:46] If people need to find you, the best way to find you is through WorldGayBoxingChampionships.org. Here’s the last question and it’s the last question I ask every time. I asked you this several years ago. When you get off a stage or you get out of a meeting. You get in your car and you drive away. What’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you’re not in the room?
Courage and inclusion. I finished my fight after my first fight on the 10th of December, 2021. My walkout song was Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the rainbow flag. I felt visibly supported. It was an awesome experience. I proved that I could get in the ring, fight, belong, and have support from the crowd.
When I left, I had that moment to myself. I’ve achieved one of the biggest goals in my life. I want people to feel that they’re included and they’ll have the courage to go and do something. When you have the courage to do your own dreams, you inspire others. When we feel included, these conversations don’t need to happen too often. We don’t talk about homophobia and racism. We talk about how we can make the world a better place and a better environment for others. We do that through courage and inclusion.
[00:34:11] Martin, it’s always awesome to have you on the show. Hopefully, we can do this again in Australia. February 18th to the 22nd, 2023, the WorldGayBoxingChampionships.org. Thank you for being such an amazing guest.
Thank you, Ben. I can’t wait to welcome you to my home city.
- Martin Stark
- World Gay Boxing Championships
- Boxing Australia
- Boxing New South Wales
- World Boxing Council
- World Boxing Association
- IBO International Boxing Organization
- World Boxing Organization
- The Guardian
- Diversity Council Australia
- Australian Workplace Equality Index
- LinkedIn – World Gay Boxing Championships
- Facebook – World Gay Boxing Championships
- Instagram – Wgbchamps
- March 11, 2020 Episode
About Martin Stark
Martin Stark is a Keynote Speaker, Courage Champion, Inclusion Practitioner and LGBTQIA+ Advocate who has been interviewed by CNN, The Guardian, SBS TV News, Thomson Reuters, BBC Sport, BBC World Service and prestigious international and Australian LGBTQIA+ media. Martin empowers people, teams and organisations to entrench courage as a habit and advises businesses and individuals on meaningful Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
Martin is the Founder and CEO of the not-for-profit company World Gay Boxing Championships Limited (WGBC) and plans to hold the inaugural world LGBTQI+ boxing championships from 18-22 February 2023 in Sydney coinciding with the city hosting World Pride and Mardi Gras. Martin is passionate about Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Social Justice and Fairness. Martin is a seasoned commercial negotiator and Supplier Diversity Expert with 15-years’ experience as an IT Strategic Sourcing Leader. Martin is the Founding Member of the Yarning Circle and is a Pride Inclusion Advocate for Pride Life Global.