Jennifer Chang and Lisa Dazols are a couple from San Francisco who embarked on a year-long world tour in June in search of gay people who are creating change for the LGBTQ community. Their project, Out and Around: Stories of a Not-So-Straight Journey, is a collection of their conversations with these “Supergays” around the world. Their trip will cover 15 countries across Asia, Africa, and South America, chosen because those are places where the LGBTQ movement is just starting to take shape, and they want to tell the stories of the people there who are leading the charge. Fridae will republish selected interviews on a regular basis. Readers can follow their journey on www.outandaround.com.
Living in San Francisco, Jenni and I lived comfortably in the “gayborhood” where we one can almost live in a straight-free world. Of course San Francisco has a world-reknowned list of gay bars and gay restaurants. But we also have gay sports teams, gay churches, gay businesses, gay book clubs, gay toastmasters, gay knitting circles and even a gay traffic school.
Lisa Dazols and Jennifer Chang (right) are a couple from San Francisco who are travelling around the world for a year interviewing "supergays" and blogging about them on their website www.outandaround.com.
Why do we need so many organizations for the LGBT community? Because living in an imperfect world, we face stress as members of a minority group and often lose the support of our given families. Coming together affirms our relationships and our sense of identity while also reiterating our power as a group that deserves full equality.
Last week, our dear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a moving address on the need for LGBT rights (watch her speech here) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct,” Mrs. Clinton said, “but in fact they are one and the same.” Jenni and I couldn’t agree more.
Traveling these past six months primarily in developing countries, we have realized that our visits aren’t only interviews with Supergays, but a chance to uplift activists doing Supergay work in environments where their ideas are not always welcomed. Almost every LGBT organization and Supergay that we’ve outreached to abroad has written me back enthusiastically. Many people we’ve met have offered to host us in their homes, show us around their hometown, and talk to us about their struggles to live openly truthful lives. As writers and filmmakers, we listen. What they end up appreciating most is our affirmation and support, letting them know that the international community is behind them.
In developing countries where our LGBT extended “family” is often rejected, a little affirmation goes a long way. Here are ten ways we can all help….
10) When you travel abroad, visit the local LGBT Center if there is one. Learn about the social services and supports being offered. Donate queer-themed books, documentaries and magazines with LGBT topics to add to their library. In Taiwan, we visited the Taiwan LGBT Hotline Association and met Anne, a passionate volunteer who told us about their work and took us out to check out the local lesbian scene.
9) Go to the local gay bar. Go not just to find a hot hook-up, but to meet local LGBT individuals and learn about their lives. You’ll find they’ll be quite curious about your life in your home country as well. Ask for their advice on what you should see while you visit. In Bali, we realized that gay bars are quite similar no matter where you are in the world: lots of Lady Gaga, cheap 2-for-1 cocktails and of course drag queens, drag queens, drag queens.
Go on a gay vacation and be visible.Now there are many queer travel companies such as Olivia Cruises and Atlantis. Our favorite is Sweet directed by Supergay Shannon Wentworth. Their vacations take queer women to other countries with the option of doing volunteer work with local communities. The locals have an opportunity to directly meet gay and bisexual women and witness their contributions. Check out our video with a news clip from Belize when Shannon brought a cruise ship full of women to do a beach clean up.
7) Plan your vacation around a Pride Festival. When we initially planned out our trip, we thought about traveling based on Pride Festivals around the world. We discovered that most of them are during the summer though and were not logically sequential in any one direction around the globe. We would have LOVED to see Shanghai Pride Festival, Croatia’s first Pride Parade, or Cambodia Pride. These festivals are historic events and part of our global gay heritage. You can say that you were there.
6) Come out, come out, wherever you are. We know how hard it is when you are faced with the dreaded questions, “Do you have a husband?” It’s certainly more comfortable to skirt around the issue. But you may be missing an opportunity to positively change one person’s perspective on gays. Provided that you feel that your personal safety is not compromised, challenge yourself to come out and educate others. You certainly will not be the last LGBT individual who will travel to their destination.
5) Use your voice to take action when called upon: Sign up for newsletters from the National Center of Lesbian Rights (NCLR), The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), and any other number of LGBT organizations. You’ll receive action alerts when an email or phone call can make a difference in advocating for gay rights.
4) Financially contribute. A dollar goes a long way in the developing world. The entire budget of Shanghai Pride this year came to $2500 USD and organizers struggled to raise the money all year. Just to give you a comparison, San Francisco Pride’s budget was $3 million USD. No gift amount is too small. (You can contact our Supergay Pride Organizers for any donation at firstname.lastname@example.org).
3) Stay at gay-owned accommodations: When we traveled to Siem Reap in Cambodia, one of our favorite discoveries was the gay-owned Golden Banana hotel. We stayed there because we wanted to support this local gay business. Not only were the staff gay-friendly (most LGBT themselves), but the place had the best ambiance and decor that only a gay man could create. The website Purple Roofs lists gay-owned and gay-friendly travel accommodations around the world.
2) Encourage LGBT organizations to adopt sister organizations abroad. Jenni and I met while participating on the AIDS Lifecycle, a week long cycling event that raises money for the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The LA Gay and Lesbian Center Leadership program funds an internship program for Chinese activists to come to L.A. and work with their staff. We met several Chinese gay activists while on the Lifecycle, including Supergay Shanghai Organizer Dylan Chen, who told us how much his time in LA has inspired him to fully devote himself to the LGBT movement in his home country. We were so happy that our fundraiser went to support important leaders of China’s equality movement. We only wished more organizations provided this type of international support.
1) Educate yourself about conditions for LGBT individuals in other countries. Yes, we all live in a bubble. I’ll be the first to admit that when I used to pick up a copy of the Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco’s gay newspaper, I would always be more interested in an article about the trendiest new clubs rather than international affairs. But, it is so important to stretch your worldview and awareness. Jenni and I enjoy the time we spend researching each country and learning about how culture, religion, and societal norms impact personal freedoms. Our friend Richard Ammon runs a fantastic site, GlobalGayz, that presents stories and news reports on gay life around the world. If you are reading our blog, most likely you share our interests. So, learn as much as you can and spread the word.