5 individuals who are championing LGBTQIA+ rights in Asia

Credit: Darien Chen

In celebration of Pride Month, get to know five inspirational individuals in Asia who are championing LGBTQIA+ rights through their businesses or upcoming events.

Darien Chen, founder of Taipei Pride Parade of the World 2020

Taiwanese native Darien Chen is the brains behind this year’s Taipei Pride Parade of the World. Set to take place on 28 June (to commemorate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots of New York City, a landmark gay liberation movement event that inspired Pride Month), this year’s event will hold special significance, in light of hundreds of cancellations of pride events around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: Darien Chen

“Knowing how safe Taiwan is, we feel obliged to hold a pride parade for the world,” says Chen, who has been involved in LGBTQIA+ advocacy for years and was co-chair of the first Taiwan LGBT Pride march in 2003 as well as Taiwan’s representative at the Mr Gay World contest in 2013. Today, the territory is one of the few places in the world that saw a steady period of zero locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, and where restrictions are slowly easing. It also has a reputation as the most progressive place in Asia when it comes to gay rights.

This year’s event, says Chen, will encourage attendees to “write down who they are marching for” on posters. The organisers will also give out rainbow-coloured masks, to “raise awareness of Covid-19 protection methods.”

Credit: Darien Chen

“We believe that just like other minority groups, the [period of] lockdown only intensifies the imbalance of powers, which makes us even more oppressed without free air,” explains Chen.

“So it’s high time that we do this free and proud in Taiwan, where it’s very safe and liberal, and be a beacon of hope for the world.”

The Taipei Pride Parade of the World will start on 3pm, 28 June 2020 at National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Snooky Wong and Milanie Bekker of Madame Quad, Hong Kong

Hongkonger Snooky Wong and South African Milanie Bekker established Madame Quad in 2017, and opened a shop space in Causeway Bay last year. It offers gear and accessories for roller derby, a sport featuring teams roller skating counter-clockwise around a track that has gained popularity with women in the LGBTQIA+ community around the world.

What’s more, the retail shop also doubles as a safe space that’s open to all – members of the roller derby community, those who want to try out skates, or others seeking a hangout spot to connect with new people.

Both enthusiasts of roller derby, Wong and Bekker met playing on the Hong Kong team. The game is particularly known for its inclusivity, says Wong. “I think it’s because of the culture. It’s so open and accepting,” she says. Those who start out in roller derby choose a “derby name” – “so already, your first step towards derby is establishing your own derby persona. I think that allows people to think about what they want for themselves.”

That’s an integral idea behind the founding of the Madame Quad shop, too. “We wanted to …  chill with our friends and be who we are without any pressures from the outside world,” says Bekker. And it’s particularly important for her, she says, being part of the queer community. “[It’s] where everybody could feel they’re welcome without being judged for any parts of who they are.”

Madame Quad, Shop 2C, Po Foo Building, 1-5 Foo Ming Street, Causeway Bay, +852 3612 0491

Barry Sum, co-founder of Time bar

Credit: Barry Sum

Barry Sum just celebrated 10 years of running Time Bar, a lowkey, gay-friendly watering hole in Hong Kong. Taking up a quiet spot behind an alleyway just off the bustle of Hollywood Road, this small bar is much-loved for its friendly, laidback vibes.

Looking to open a gay bar, Sum and his co-founders came upon the space by chance and thought it was an ideal spot. “People may not remember what it was like back in 2010. People were quite concerned about [being seen] going into a gay bar,” Sum remembers. “A hidden corner in a convenient location would be perfect – people can get there easily, but it wasn’t facing a street.”

Time has always positioned itself as an understated place, open to everyone looking for a neighbourhood joint to relax and enjoy themselves, says Sum. The name itself doesn’t have special meaning – and that’s also “representative of how basic we want the bar to be.”

Credit: Barry Sum

Time Bar is a supporter of LGBTQIA+ causes in the city: it donates to Project Touch, a unit under The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong which provides support to young people coming out to their families. It also donated to the pitching of Hong Kong’s bid to host the Gay Games, to name a few.

“We choose to influence in a soft way. Instead of being radical and very vocal, we would rather influence people to bring out the beauty in human nature,” explains Sum. Ultimately, the bar’s philosophy is all about “empathy, compassion and care for the community, and care for one another,” he says. “That’s not something that’s LGBT-specific – it’s for everyone.”

Time Bar, 65 Hollywood Road (by Pak Tsz Lane Park), Central, Hong Kong, +852 2332 6565

Dennis Philipse, founder and co-chair, Gay Games Hong Kong 2022

Credit: Dennis Philipse

Dennis Philipse is responsible for leading Hong Kong’s winning bid to host the Gay Games in 2022, marking the first time they will take place in an Asian city.

The Dutch native cites his passions for the outdoors – he established Out in HK, a meetup group hosting regular sports events originally as a way to meet people in the LGBTQIA+ community in 2014 – as inspiration for him to bring the Gay Games to his adopted home. “Hong Kong is a great city – [it has] diversity, amazing people, great infrastructure,” adds Philipse, who’d first attended the Gay Games in Amsterdam in 1998.

After a year-long process working with the Federation of Gay Games, Philipse and his team won the bid 2017.

Credit: Dennis Philipse

“This is not just an event for the LGBT community. Everybody can join, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or identity. It’s a diverse festival open to everybody, and I think that’s really important to emphasise,” says Philipse.

Marking the 11th edition of the Gay Games, the Hong Kong event will take place over nine days in November 2022. It will consist of 36 sporting competitions alongside arts and culture events, as well as a festival village.

Credit: Dennis Philipse

“For the next two years, I’ll be volunteering full-time on this project,” explains Philipse, who is working with a team of around 90 volunteers. “It sounds like a big commitment, but … at the age of 47, you start to realise what’s important.”

“Some people say they want to travel around the world,” he adds. “For me, it’s giving back to the community and making a change.”

Visit Gay Games Hong Kong’s website and Facebook for more details

See also: Out and proud: Zelos Wong Hoi-yat on love, life and the LGBTQ community in Hong Kong

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