If you asked Martin Stark prior to December 2017 if he would ever find himself in the middle of a boxing ring, he’d have a much different answer than today. “For me, boxing was almost barbaric; not for me. I hated the idea of it,” Stark told Outsports. Now, Stark is an avid amateur boxer and the brains behind the newly created World Gay Boxing Championships.

The World Gay Boxing Championships event aims to increase LGBTQ participation in the sport through the titular event and a series of satellite activities including LGBTQ fight nights. “My vision is to create an inclusive LGBTQI-friendly event for people from all countries and backgrounds,” Stark said. The inaugural event is currently set to take place in Sydney, Australia in 2023 to coincide with World Pride and Mardi Gras festivities being held in the same city, with an exhibition WGBC event planned for 2022.

The idea is firmly rooted in Stark’s own emerging love of the sport, which quickly flourished after entering the ring as part of a self-defense course in December 2017 shortly after nearly losing his life to Addison’s disease. He “discovered a passion immediately” for the sport, a refreshing moment for an out gay man who admittedly was “the last one to be picked” in other team sports. But Stark also had talent. “People used to say, ‘Martin couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag.’ Now, people associate me with boxing,” Stark said.

He set his sights on boxing in the Gay Games, but the sport’s removal from its lineup pushed Stark down a path to empower other LGBTQ people interested in the sport in the same way it empowered him. “Why shouldn’t LGBTQIA people box? Why should we, as a community, not feel part of a sport? Homophobia exists in sport, but sometimes we have to disrupt that by being part of the sport,” Stark said.

That disruption, in Stark’s eyes, is exactly what the WGBC represents. “I see this as a pathway to bring in the LGBTQI and wider community in the sport of boxing together because sport brings everybody together,” Stark said. To that end, Stark is putting in the work to make sure that the WGBC is tailored to welcome all. He has reached out to multiple organizations for advice in crafting the event to properly include trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming and intersex boxers.

“I don’t believe that we are victims in the LGBTQI community. I believe we can achieve and I really want to pull the community together and say, ‘You know what, you can do anything that you want to do.’ For me, it’s entering the ring,” Stark said. “It’s about the camaraderie and the spirit of people coming together. I believe it’s my time to lead and drive change, and why not boxing?”

WGBC founder Martin Stark

Stark has even received interest from heterosexual fighters that want to compete in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. “I love the idea of a straight male winning one of the divisions. Can you imagine a straight guy saying I am the world gay boxing champion,” Stark said with a chortle.

Stark has a number of ideas focused on crafting a boxing event that reflects that inclusive attitude, including non-contact technical competitions, a supportive live atmosphere and potentially livestreaming the event to the public. There are plenty of smaller scale events planned ahead of the WGBC’s proper debut in 2023 to help those ideas materialize and evolve, but Stark’s mission is already cemented.

“At the end of the decade, I don’t want this to exist in the form that I’m creating it now. If it continues, I don’t want it to be because we still have homophobia and transphobia in sport. I want to be part of the solution,” Stark said. “I don’t want fear to stop people from achieving their dreams.”