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Transgender influencers in Asia use platforms to promote acceptance

Indian model Sushant Divgikar has 1.8 million Instagram followers

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Sushant Divgikar (Photo by Amit Khanna)

TOKYO — In the time of the internet, new influencers are becoming famous every day. Some dance to someone’s else songs for viewership. Some talk about different gadgets, while others use the platform to create a powerful impact on society.

The Transgender community in Asia continues to become more visible, but it still has a long way to go. Trans icons in the region who have become famous online are using their influence to spread awareness of the Trans community among their fans and across their respective countries alike.

Kaede Sari, a Japanese architect, is fighting to spread awareness about Trans people in her country and change society’s perspective of Trans people as mere entertainment. 

She released a documentary, “You Decide,” in July 2020 that is based on her life. The idea was to spread awareness about Trans people in Japan and inspire other Trans people in the country. The documentary was available in select theaters and on Netflix Japan.

“I have continued to disseminate information, especially to students and families, as well as corporate employers and personnel,” said Sari in a statement to the Washington Blade. “However, society is still in the process of change. Some Transgender people may not be able to come out depending on their position. I want to tell them, ‘You don’t have to come out until the environment is ready. Until we change the whole society, please find a reliable person (to whom you) can come out. And please be a person that is trusted to receive the coming out of many people.'”

The Trans community has been an integral and mostly accepted part of Japanese culture since the Edo period from 1603-1868.

Japan in the late 1800s moved from a country that accepted gender fluidity to one that adopted Western gender binary norms. The Trans community in Japan now faces regular humiliation, misunderstanding and discrimination. 

Japanese law stipulates a person has to show their ID — which often has a gender identity marker — when accessing education, health, transportation and other services. Authorities often ask invasive questions if a Trans person’s picture doesn’t match their gender marker on the ID card.

Sari told the Blade she wanted to come out after finishing school, getting a job or moving into a new home.

She came out just before she began to look for employment. Sari said her Trans friends either dropped out of school or decided not to come out.

“In Asia, many countries, including Japan, are conservative in change, and policies for LGBT (people) are spreading only in limited areas,” said Sari. “There are two steps to changing those who disagree with LGBT. ‘The stage of understanding LGBT’ and ‘the stage of accepting LGBT.’ I think we are in the stage of understanding now, so please get the correct knowledge.”

China, like Japan, has a long relationship with the Trans community, but repression against it is a reality. Trans cultural icons in China are fighting hard to change the narrative and situation inside the country and abroad.

Fan Popo, a Chinese filmmaker and LGBTQ+ and intersex activist, is working to change attitudes about the country’s trans community through films and documentaries. 

Popo is known for his iconic documentary “Mama Rainbow,” which has inspired many LGBTQ+ and intersex people in China. The film attracted significant viewers on the internet in China and started a public discussion about the queer community. It has since disappeared from Youku, Tudou, 56.com and other popular Chinese streaming services.

Popo launched a ferocious legal battle with China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the fight resulted in a partial victory in 2015.

He continues to make LGBTQ+-focused films to spread awareness in China and among Chinese people who are living abroad. 

Popo moved to Germany in 2017 and is now working on a fictional film debut. While talking with the Blade, he said the film is important for him as he feels he didn’t do enough for the queer community, and he wants to contribute more to the community in the coming years.

“Ever since I moved to Germany, I have been facing systematic racism. There are little resources are available for people of color,” said Popo. “What my colleagues in China have to face is also impacting me, so this makes me feel frustrated and unsafe. Another difficulty that I am facing right now is traveling back to China because of restrictions.”

Despite all the struggles, Popo has had a huge impact with his fans inside China and around the world. 

His creativity and films historically have inspired the Trans community. He has made six films, and his last film was “Beer! Beer!” in 2020.

In India, the Trans community has historical ties to traditional Indian culture. 

According to scholars and ancient Indian texts, the Trans community garnered respect, but things changed once the British colonized the country. 

Section 377 of India’s colonial-era penal code that came into force in 1861 criminalized homosexuality. The Indian Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the discriminatory law, but more than 200 years of British colonial rule pushed Indian society to become discriminatory against trans people.

To create awareness about Trans Indians, Trans icons are using their social media platforms and creating a positive impact on society.

Sushant Divgikar is an Indian model, actor, singer, drag queen and motivational speaker who won Mr. Gay India in 2014. With 1.8 million Instagram followers, Divgikar has been spreading awareness about the country’s Trans community. 

“The Transgender community has shared a very beautiful status in the context of Indian cultural history in the pre-colonial area. After things changed because the British had very narrow-minded thoughts on the queer community. They talk about how the British divided and ruled the country based on caste, but they do not talk about how British rule divided the country based on gender diversity,” Divgikar told the Blade. “Over the past 16 and half years, I have been performing as a drag queen, actor, model, and motivational speaker, so of course, it has been a roller coaster ride, but I have never imagined this anything else. If I had not struggled this much, I would not have known what I have today and what I did not have.”

Divgikar since 2012 has appeared on many TV shows and participated in numerous competitions. They have also been using Instagram to talk about the queer community and start a public discussion. Divgikar has inspired many fans with their inspirational posts and stories. 

Divgikar in 2020 appeared on Forbes 30 under 30 list.

“At the time when people were not ready to talk about their orientation, I was on TV, risking my life because I used to get death threats, I used to get rape threats. When I was younger, I used to get frustrated because of threats, but now I feel bad for them,” they said. “They are the ones who really need a big hug and some therapy. I don’t mind paying for their therapy.”

Divgikar also talked about their appearance on the third largest billboard in New York’s Times Square for an entire month. 

While talking with the Blade, Divgikar said Trans Indians feel represented when they see them on big stages. Divgikar feels pride in representing every Asian, and especially Trans Indians, on the world stage.

“When you harm another person, you are not just harming that person,” said Divgikar while talking about hate crimes against the trans community in Asia. “You are killing the whole humanity.”

Ankush Kumar (Mohit) is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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WorldPride 2025 in Taiwan cancelled

“Taiwan deeply regrets that InterPride, due to political considerations, has unilaterally rejected the mutually agreed upon consensus”

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Taipei Pride October, 2014 (Photo by Andy Lain 多元的台灣 2014彩虹大遊行)

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwanese organizers of the WorldPride 2025 Taiwan will not hold the event after InterPride, a global LGBTQ rights group, refused to let the Taiwanese organizers use the island nation’s name in the event title.

WorldPride Taiwan 2025 was initially slated to be hosted by the southern city of Kaohsiung after the Taiwan Preparation Committee, consisting of representatives from Kaohsiung Pride and Taiwan Pride, had their bid accepted by InterPride, a global LGBTQ rights group.

 A-Ku (阿古), co-chairman of the local WorldPride Taiwan 2025 organizing committee told media outlets that InterPride had recently “suddenly” asked them to change the name of the event to “Kaohsiung,” removing the word “Taiwan.”

“After careful evaluation, it is believed that if the event continues, it may harm the interests of Taiwan and the Taiwan gay community. Therefore, it is decided to terminate the project before signing the contract,” said the co-chair in a statement.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) helped organize a tripartite meeting with InterPride and Kaohsiung Pride on Nov. 16, 2021 during which the three parties agreed upon the name Taiwan, A-Ku told Focus Taiwan/CNA News English.

Despite this, InterPride subsequently announced in a letter dated July 26 that, based on a vote by the directors and supervisors, the event must be named either “WorldPride Kaohsiung” or “Kaohsiung WorldPride,” A-Ku said.

He also noted that InterPride’s assertion that it had suggested using the name “WorldPride Kaohsiung, Taiwan” was “completely inconsistent with the facts.”

A-Ku added that the name “WorldPride Taiwan 2025” had been used throughout the entire bidding process from the beginning of 2021, including on application forms, plans, and other relevant documents.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry released a statement noting that the event would have been the first WorldPride event to be held in East Asia.

“Taiwan deeply regrets that InterPride, due to political considerations, has unilaterally rejected the mutually agreed upon consensus and broken a relationship of cooperation and trust, leading to this outcome,” the statement said adding;

“Not only does the decision disrespect Taiwan’s rights and diligent efforts, it also harms Asia’s vast LGBTIQ+ community and runs counter to the progressive principles espoused by InterPride.”

Taiwan had legalized same-sex marriage in 2019, “On May 17th, 2019 in Taiwan, Love Won,” tweeted President Tsai Ing-wen at the time. “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

The island nation’s recognition of same-sex marriage is a first for Asia, and Taiwan is proud of its reputation as a central bastion of LGBTQ rights and liberalism in Asia.

WorldPride 2025 Taiwan’s full statement:

Statement on Project Termination of Hosting WorldPride Taiwan 2025》

The WorldPride 2025 Taiwan Preparation Committee would like to express our sincere gratitude for all the generous support we have received since winning the bid to host WorldPride 2025 in Taiwan. After months of preparation and collaboration with various government departments and corporate enterprises, it is a great pity to announce that the project of WorldPride Taiwan 2025 has been terminated.

When discussing and negotiating the event contract’s terms and conditions, the WorldPride 2025 Taiwan Preparation Committee (consisting of Taiwan Pride and Kaohsiung Pride) was unable to reach a consensus with InterPride, the event licensor. There were major discrepancies between our stances on the event’s naming, understandings of Taiwan’s culture, and expectations of what a WorldPride event should look like.

In the back-and-forth discussions, InterPride repetitively raised their concerns and doubts about whether Taiwan has the capacity, economic and otherwise, to host an international event like WorldPride. This is despite our team consisting of highly competent Pride organizers who have successfully organized some of the largest Pride events in Asia. Although we have presented past data and relevant statistics to prove our track record, we were still unable to convince InterPride. However hard we have tried to cooperate, our efforts did not result in an equal and trusting working partnership with the event licensor.

The final straw that led the negotiation to a deadlock was the abrupt notice from InterPride, requiring the name of the event to change from “WorldPride Taiwan 2025” to “WorldPride Kaohsiung 2025”. This is despite the fact that the name “WorldPride Taiwan 2025” was used throughout the entire bidding process: From the bid application and the bid proposal evaluation to the voting process and the winner announcement back in 2021.

We had made it clear to InterPride that there are some significant reasons why we insist on using the name “WorldPride Taiwan 2025”. First, the name “Taiwan Pride” is of symbolic significance to the Taiwanese LGBTIQ+ community as it has been used for Taiwan’s first and still ongoing Pride parade since the first edition in 2003. It was not named after the city but the nation as a whole. Second, WorldPride Taiwan 2025 was planned to connect several Pride events and activities across Taiwan, with many cities, in addition to Kaohsiung, participating.

After the winner announcement, upon reading InterPride’s congratulatory letter which mistakenly named Taiwan as a region instead of a country, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) helped organize a tripartite meeting with InterPride and KH Pride on November 16 2021. In the meeting, the three parties (MOFA, InterPride, KH Pride) agreed on using “WorldPride Taiwan 2025” as the name for all the sequential events and activities. However, during the recent contract negotiation, InterPride suddenly made it a requirement that WorldPride 2025 can only be named after the host city rather than the country (“WorldPride Kaohsiung 2025” instead of “WorldPride Taiwan 2025”). This unexpected requirement essentially reneges on the previously made agreement.

In the face of many uncertainties such as InterPride’s inconsistent attitude toward the event naming and doubts about our team and the Taiwan market, we have to make the painful decision to terminate the project of hosting WorldPride 2025 in order to strive for the best interest of the LGBTIQ+ community in Taiwan. The WorldPride 2025 Preparation Committee will also resign to take responsibility for failing to host the event.

We would like to express our most profound appreciation to everyone who has supported us. We are especially grateful for the continuous assistance and resources provided by Taiwan’s Presidential Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We promise that the termination of hosting WorldPride Taiwan 2025 will not undermine our motivation to serve the LGBTIQ+ community. We will continue to promote Taiwan’s LGBTIQ+ culture worldwide.

The WorldPride 2025 Taiwan Preparation Committee

2022/08/12

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Seoul Queer Culture Festival draws thousands of participants

This was the first major gathering of LGBTQ+ groups and people since the COVID19 pandemic restrictions were lifted

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Screenshot/YouTube AFP

SEOUL, South Korea – The Seoul Queer Culture Festival kicked off Saturday (Local Time) in the South Korean capital city with crowds of participants estimated at nearly 14,000 according to the Korean Yonhap News Agency.

This was the first major gathering of LGBTQ+ groups and people since the COVID19 pandemic restrictions were lifted.

The event, which featured 72 booths and exhibitions staffed by LGBTQ+ groups, university clubs, human rights organisations, foreign diplomatic missions, as well as Korean progressive groups was attended by the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Philip Goldberg, who appeared at the festival to show his support.

“To express the strong commitment of the United States to ending discrimination wherever it occurs and ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and humanity, we simply cannot leave any of you behind,” Goldberg told the crowd.

“We’re going to fight with you for equality and human rights,” the ambassador added.

“I’m glad we can have an offline festival after a long time. LGBT people are not hateful people who appear one day out of the year but people who live their daily lives just the same,” Hurricane Kimchi, a drag queen who attended the festival told Reuters.

“The Queer Festival has gotten bigger, and many LGBT people show up without hiding, because the perception in our society is getting better,” Kimchi said.

Reuters and the Yonhap News Agency noted that the festival drew a crowd of anti-LGBTQ+ Christian and conservative groups, who held a rally in protest across the road. Police maintained positions in-between to prevent a violent clash.

The protest rally had at least 15,000 participants, according to Yonhap.

“We are protesting and holding a national convention for the healthy sexual ethics of our children, and we are rallying together to call for the proper operation of Seoul Plaza, which is run with citizens’ taxes,” said Lee Yong-hee, a university professor and participant in the protest rally told a reporter from Yonhap.

Video for the first post-Covid Seoul Pride is met with anti-gay protesters | AFP

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtlecKdnRoY

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District court in Japan rules same-sex marriage ban is not unconstitutional

Marriage was defined as being only between opposite genders and not enough debate on same-sex marriage had taken place in Japanese society

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Press conference outside Osaka court house after 3 judge-panel's decision (Screenshot/YouTube Al Jazeera English)

OSAKA, Osaka Prefecture, Japan – In a ruling issued Monday (Local time) a district court said that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional. The case had been filed by three same-sex couples – two male, one female, and is only the second legal challenge to have been filed in Japan. 

In March of 2021, the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling the country’s constitution does not ban same-sex couples from legally marrying and ensures them a right to marry. Under current Japanese law, same-sex couples are banned from legally marrying, which means partners cannot inherit each other’s assets upon death and have no parental rights over the other’s child.

In the Sapporo case, Nikkei Asia reported three couples — also two male and one female tried to register their marriages in 2019, but local officials turned them away.

The couples sued and the court ruled the government’s actions violated two provisions of the Japanese Constitution: Article 14 that ensures the right to equal treatment and Article 24, which does not expressly deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.

Reuters reported that the Osaka court ruling said that marriage was defined as being only between opposite genders and not enough debate on same-sex marriage had taken place in Japanese society.

“We emphasised in this case that we wanted same-sex couples to have access to the same things as regular couples,” said the lawyer for the couples, Akiyoshi Miwa, adding that they would appeal.

Reuters also reported that while Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs to be carefully considered, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has disclosed no plans to review the matter or propose legislation, though some senior party members favour reform.

An upcoming case in Tokyo will keep alive public debate on the issue, particularly in the capital, where an opinion poll by the local government late last year found some 70% of people were in favour of same-sex marriage.

Japanese court upholds same-sex marriage ban:

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