By: Angel Hall Bovee, Retired U.S. Boxing Champion and Athlete Ally Pro Ambassador
When I first picked up the gloves and started the Sweet Science in the late 90s, Olympic-style boxing had only been legal for women in the US since 1993. It was still very much outside of societal norms to be a woman athlete in a male-dominated sport, much less being a queer athlete. Yet I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it, much less not being myself.
I had already come out as queer a few years before, and so I knew there was no going back in the closet for me while I was pursuing the highest levels of my sport. At the time, it was an easy decision: I knew in my heart I wouldn’t succeed if I was hiding my authentic self.
Being fully who I am led me to an incredible experience as an out queer woman serving as Captain of the Team USA Women’s Boxing Team in 2002. I didn’t realize at the time how groundbreaking that was. Most of the press coverage I received in a virtually unknown sport was due to the LGBTQ+ media, which I am very thankful for to this day. For every one negative comment that came my way, I received hundreds of accolades from people in the community that were not only supportive, but found inspiration in following an out athlete pursuing her dreams. The support and feedback I received kept me going during some of my most challenging times, both in and out of the boxing ring.
Since my time in sport, I am floored by the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made in the areas of equality and representation, yet there is still so much more to be done. As I have stood on the shoulders of the amazing LGBTQ+ athletes that came before me, I know today’s young LGBTQ+ athletes will help make sport a more inclusive and safe place for all those who wish to play.
Now that I am retired from sport, I work with Olympic and Paralympic athletes helping them figure out who they are outside of their sport and assist them in getting drafted for their next professional team, whether it be in the corporate world, entrepreneurship, government, or non-profit. My advice to up-and-coming LGBTQ+ athletes is to be as visible as you are comfortable being, and don’t be afraid to use your sporting success as a platform to advocate for what you are passionate about. Being an out athlete won’t resonate with everyone, but rest assured the right sponsors, media, and fans will gravitate to athletes that are authentic, give back to their community, are passionate about representation, and truly share all of their journey to be the best athlete and human they can be.
I am excited to be a Pro Ambassador for Athlete Ally because the work they do building inclusive communities in sport will help make the benefits of sport available to all. Educating leaders about how diversity on teams and in sport governance can help build stronger sporting organizations, increase fan engagement, and lead to a better experience for athletes will help ensure sport remains an avenue for all youth to have an opportunity to participate and gain life and leadership skills.
I encourage all sport leaders to take inclusion training to be a better ally for the LGBTQ+ community, and to institute a zero tolerance policy against hate language and behaviors in the locker room, on the field, and in the ring. Together, we can create an atmosphere where all players have the ability to thrive.
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