When Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazols, a lesbian couple from San Francisco, set out to research how the LGBT rights movement is making strides internationally, they decided that there's no better way to learn than by traveling throughout the world and seeing for themselves. Since June, the couple has been traveling around the globe for their "Supergays" project - a quest to spotlight some extraordinary movers and shakers in the LGBT community while learning more about life as an LGBT person in other countries.
Using their blog, Out and Around: Stories from a Not-So-Straight Journey, Jenni and Lisa are sharing the stories of "Supergays," who they describe as queer people doing great things for their own communities and the broader LGBT movement.
"We're looking for people who are doing something extraordinary in the community - that could be something in politics, in art, in HIV work," Lisa explained to The Bilerico Project. "We're looking for people who are leading the charge in the community and furthering understanding and furthering gay rights."
"For us, supergays are gay people doing extraordinary things in all arenas of society," Jenni added.
The couple plans to visit more than 15 countries in the next year of their travels, focusing primarily on Asia, Africa, and South America. Currently, they're in the Phillipines, and they've already been to Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia, but they plan on touring China, Cambodia, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, Argentina, Tanzania, Chile, Brazil, and several other countries on their year-long journey.
An LGBT-Inclusive Project
The "supergay" term shouldn't be read as a sign that the couple is only interested in gay and lesbian people. The project's title, rather, comes from a lack of a common "LGBT" term that's understandable in every language.
"At first our website was called 'Queer Way Round,' and we picked the term 'queer' because that was what we were most comfortable with," Lisa said. "That's the term that our generation uses to be the most inclusive, and we certainly want to be sensitive to all of our trans friends and the bisexual community. But then when we piloted it, we found out that internationally, queer just isn't the word that's best known around the world. A lot of our gay friends of different generations from different countries told us that it was actually a very harmful word for them. So what we're really finding - when you go to a place like Indonesia - is that there's not really a word for it in these languages. 'Gay' is actually the most internationally recognized word."
Lisa and Jenni have already interviewed a transgender musician from San Francisco and have met with a transgender support group in Australia.
A Surprising Journey
It's only been about two months so far, but Lisa's and Jenni's trip has already been marked by a few surprises. For example, in Indonesia, a largely Muslim couple, they expected a fiercely anti-gay culture. They were glad to find, however, that there was some level of acceptance in the country and that some gay people could live their lives in peace. It's not equality, Jenni asserted, but it's a start.
For example, recently the couple interviewed a gay Balinese man in a committed relationship with another man. The couple met via Facebook, but their first date was praying at a temple, and while they say they can't be openly intimate, they work on HIV/AIDS advocacy efforts in the country. The juxtaposition of these worlds intrigued Lisa and Jenni, and it's one of their favorite stories to date (check out the video interview below).
"It's a sweet, innocent love story of two men from farming backgrounds who share rings and live a very private life, yet they're working for their communities in ways that are culturally appropriate," Lisa said.
A Cross-Cultural Movement
Funding an international expedition on this scale took some work, but Lisa and Jenni received significant support from their community in San Francisco and beyond. At a launch party before they left for their trip, they raised $5,000, which will go toward the costs of operating a website, producing video, and editing it all together when the trip wraps up next year. The end goal, besides producing shorter videos along the way (available on Out and Around's web site), is to produce a documentary showcasing the reach of the global LGBT rights movement.
Lisa said that highlighting our community's similarities and differences can help us grow as activists and humans. "The cool thing about being gay is that you go abroad, and you reach out to other gay people, and it's kind of like connecting with extended family," she said. "Our commonalities in experiences as gay people have really strengthened the bonds."
A better attempt at recognizing the importance of this international, cross-cultural struggle to educate people about the LGBT community may be the next big step for the LGBT rights movement. Lisa and Jenni have seen the importance of that, and their work during their trip will hopefully demonstrate the impact that activism - individual, group, or otherwise - can have on the push for equality.
"We want to strengthen our global bonds," Lisa said. "We want to share stories so that our community as a whole can strengthen and be inspired by other people's work."