SF bloggers meet 'Supergays' on their travels
by Heather Cassell
One year ago, San Francisco lesbian couple Jennifer "Jenni" Chang and Lisa Dazols set out on a journey around the world to find who they term "Supergays" and record their adventures on their blog, Out and Around: Stories From A Not-So-Straight Journey.
Embarking on their global journey, the couple had no film or journalistic background, only an idea and help from a dedicated group of friends and community, personal financing, and some donations from fundraising. The two trekked through Australia, South Africa, India, Nepal, Argentina, and San Francisco, interviewing LGBT people for their blog.
Their journey was mapped out based on countries where struggles for queer rights have rapidly emerged into movements or progressed into legal protections, destinations on their bucket lists, and countries where they spoke the language fluently. Aside from English, Chang speaks Mandarin and Dazols speaks Spanish.
Their goal was simple.
"We wanted to show role models within the queer community so that people in the states and also people in these countries can kind of get a chance to meet some of the Supergays who are doing extraordinary things," Dazols, 33, said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter at the couple's home before their worldwide adventure.
A year later the couple has a lot to celebrate at a homecoming party that is free to the public and takes place Wednesday, June 13 at 6 p.m. at Rebel bar, 1760 Market Street in San Francisco.
A short documentary they created premiered at Kashish, Mumbai's international queer film festival and they have a column on the Huffington Post. The women climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Machu Picchu in Peru, and ventured through the Amazon, resulting in an amazing story that has gained widespread notice.
Personally, the couple will celebrate their engagement with friends and the community. They got engaged on a beach in Boracay, Philippines during their journey.
The couple will premiere a two-minute trailer of a new documentary about their global search for the Supergays at their homecoming celebration.
"We hope that this film can inspire, educate, and build a community of LGBT people and allies across the world," wrote Dazols in an email after making it down from Machu Picchu in Peru and before venturing into the Amazon last month.
The couple hopes to bring the completed documentary to LGBT churches, film festivals, organizations, and schools.
World travelers before they met, the two women, who have been together for more than three years, discovered "anytime we travel abroad we are always curious about gay life," said Dazols, a Bay Area native.
Unbeknownst to Dazols, Chang, a Midwesterner born in Milwaukee and raised in Chicago, had long ago dreamed of taking off on a yearlong worldwide adventure.
In her 20s, while traveling in Asia, Chang met a honeymooning couple in Thailand who were traveling around the world until they ran out of money, she said. The encounter sparked her imagination, but it wasn't until she met Dazols that it became reality.
Dazols began to catch Chang's travel bug after various encounters and experiences. She recalled one conversation she had with a straight Chinese woman during a flight to China in 2010 to meet Chang, who was already in Beijing. Dazols said she whipped out a photo of Chang to show the woman, who had never knowingly met a lesbian, and began talking about their lives together.
The woman "came away from that conversation educated and surprised because she could relate to [me] and that my partner was somewhat similar to her," said Dazols, a social worker.
While in Beijing, the couple sought out gay bars and met several Chinese gay men who shared stories about their lives and struggles. Chang chimed in with another experience traveling to Taiwan where she met queer Taiwanese that she later blogged about in Out and Around.
"For us, seeking community was one of the most meaningful parts of the trip," said Dazols, who had studied abroad in Italy and Spain prior to working and living in Chile after college.
Inspired, Chang, 30, a senior manager at eBay Motors, and Dazols created Out and Around, but they never dreamed where their venture would take them or some of the heartbreak they witnessed.
Among the stories of 50 high profile leaders – haute couture fashion designers, CEOs, Indian princes, elected officials, and Olympic athletes – there are also posts about LGBT activists in Kenya who receive death threats and a couple in Indonesia that faced familial pressures to marry other people, they said.
Winding down their adventure, the couple is grateful to return to the fog and comforts of home after a year of extreme climates and a bare minimum wardrobe. They are also hopeful about the future of LGBT rights around the world.
"This trip has really impressed upon me that one passionate, devoted individual can truly make a world of difference," wrote Chang in an email from the edge of the Amazon. "While we've met Supergay celebrities, we've also interviewed extraordinary LGBT individuals who have quietly made tremendous impact on their community."
The people they met had far less resources and "sacrificed far more to help others," Chang wrote about their travels through the developing world.
Dazols was encouraged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Barack Obama, and other global leaders speaking out on behalf of LGBT human rights this year.
"When world leaders stand up for gay rights, sweeping changes can occur," said Dazols. "We feel very hopeful about the global gay movement."
There is only one question the couple is left with, Chang added, "What can we do to make a difference?"
To learn more, visit www.outandaround.com.
Thailand voters elect first trans politician
Yollada "Nok" Suanyot edged out Nan Mayor Phawat Sattayawong and another candidate to become Thailand's highest-ranking elected openly transgender official on May 27.
Suanyot garnered 3,808 votes, leading by 150 votes from her nearest competitor for the seat on the Provincial Administration Organization Council in Nan province, Sattayawong, reported the Bangkok Post .
"As far as I can see, the people of Nan are believers in human rights," Suanyot told the Global Post . "They examine my ability to develop the province more than my gender."
Before taking office, the Election Commission needs to endorse her within the next 30 days.
To run for political office, Suanyot legally had to run her campaign using her male birth name, Krirkkong, with the prefix nai, designating her gender as male. In spite of the fact that Suanyot, 30, underwent reassignment surgery when she was 16 years old, according to multiple media reports.
Thailand's law doesn't currently guarantee legal rights to LGBT individuals, but it also doesn't legally discriminate either. Thailand's LGBT community is legally invisible, while at the same time being very visible in Thai society, especially transgender individuals, according to LGBT Thai activists.
"We barely have any rights at all at this point," Suanyot told the Global Post, pointing out that authorities don't recognize transgender individuals' genitalia, only documentation of their biological sex. They also lack health insurance, and difficulties at financial and other institutions.
Right now, Suanyot hopes the commission will allow her to wear the official uniform women wear to serve in public office since she is a woman inside and out, she told the newspaper.
The transgender model-actress-singer is also a well-known transgender rights activist. She currently serves as president of the Trans Female Association of Thailand, an organization that works on behalf of transgender and LBG rights. She also worked with Sister's Hand Project, an organization that provides free reassignment surgery to transgender individuals, according to media sources.
She also gained attention as Posh Venus, in the transgender pop group Venus Flytrap, and was crowned Miss Alcaza 2007, according to media reports.
Suanyot is also currently a Ph.D. candidate in social sciences at Ramkhamhaeng University and holds a master's degree in political science.
Her background got voters' attention, but her campaign platform kept them tuned in. Suanyot vowed to address issues with the Asean Economic Community, promote local tourism, technology, and flood prevention. She told the Jakart Post that she didn't include LGBT rights in her campaign because she plans to continue pushing for those rights under the TFA, where she will retain her seat. She also expressed to the paper that she prefers to push for human rights overall.
"Human rights is not only about homosexuals, but also means patients, the elderly and racism," she told the newspaper, pointing out that her electoral victory was "only half the struggle."
St. Petersburg court strikes down anti-LGBT law
A Smolninsky district court judge handed Russian LGBT activists a victory when she ruled May 31 that the anti-LGBT propaganda law was unlawful and authorities went against federal law that allows people to freely demonstrate without disruption.
Judge Tatyana Matusyak stated that the "administration lacked the competence to judge whether the rallies were going to constitute 'propaganda of homosexuality,' especially before they actually took place." She referred to the rallies on March 7 and May 17 for the Day of Silence and International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, respectively, according to a Coming Out news release on June 1.
Russian LGBT and ally activists were arrested and detained by police citing the new St. Petersburg anti-LGBT propaganda law at both events.
The defendant didn't testify and all of the plaintiff's motions were declined, including calling expert witnesses. Representatives of the city government "failed to cite any scientific studies to support the premise that information about homosexuality harms minors" nor were authorities able to provide distinct definitions of LGBT terms to the court, according to the release.
"It's important to note that already today policemen have a difficult time deciding what constitutes 'propaganda,'" said Polina Savchenko in the release, pointing to the example of a demonstrator who was recently arrested for wearing rainbow suspenders.
The court's ruling comes days after a similar ruling was made in the Arkhangelsk regional court on May 22.
The court's ruling doesn't guarantee that authorities won't continue to attempt to enforce the law or that Russia's parliament, the Duma, will pass a national law similar to the St. Petersburg "gay gag" law. Russia's leading politicians are currently discussing a proposed law.
World leaders, such as Secretary of State Clinton, along with Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations, have expressed concern and spoken out against Russia's actions to silence its LGBT citizens and visitors.
Clinton called on Russian officials to "safeguard" LGBT human rights and to "foster an environment which promotes respect for the rights of all citizens."
Boris Dittrich, LGBT advocacy director of HRW, urged European Union representatives to raise concerns and question Russian President Vladimir Putin during the recent EU-Russia Summit in St. Petersburg.
"The 'homosexual propaganda' ban is nothing but a heinous attempt to silence St. Petersburg's LGBT community," said Dittrich in a June 1 news release. "EU representatives at the summit should directly express to President Putin their strong opposition to the law."
Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or firstname.lastname@example.org.