When Lisa Dazols and Jenni Chang left their home in San Francisco last June to travel around the world in search of ‘supergays’, they didn’t know who they would meet or how it would affect their relationship. Nine months into their journey they’ve met dozens of inspirational gays, from Prince Manvendra Sign Gohil to the organisers of Shanghai Pride and are now engaged, but Jenni’s traditional Chinese parents still won’t accept their relationship. Gay Star News interview them in Brazil over Skype.
So, where have you been so far?
Lisa: It's been nine action-packed months. We've traveled to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Taiwan, China, Nepal, India, Tanzania, Kenya, and now Brazil. We chose countries with different degrees of acceptance for the LGBT community.
Jenni: We also focused on the developing world and places we had personal connections. We traveled to Taiwan where my parents grew up and China where my grandparents originated. Lisa also took me to visit her family in the Philippines where her mom was born and Australia where some of her extended family lives.
Where are you going next?
Lisa: We'll be in Argentina, Chile, and Peru the next three months and will then fly home to San Francisco in June.
Your blog Out & Around is super professional, did you write a blog before? Did you build the website yourselves?
Jenni: I designed the website and a couple of talented friends donated their time to create our name and logo. But otherwise no, we've never done any journalism, never even picked up a video camera. This project was just born out of a passion to do something that would help the international LGBT movement. We figured we'd just learn the skills we needed to along the way, and that's what we've done.
What are you planning to do with the website and videos when you get home?
Jenni: Our project will culminate into a film documentary. We'd love to continue our website to share stories of Supergays around the world. We welcome guest writers.
How did your column for the Huffington Post come about?
Lisa: A writer for the Huffington Post who interviewed us in Nepal connected us with the Gay Voices section. We volunteered our time to write for them and now syndicate many of our articles from Out & Around. This week our article Top Ten Ways Not to Kill Your Partner While Traveling made it on the front page. We're hoping to encourage more gay couples to travel and to make it home still together.
Who is the most inspiring person you've met on your travels?
Lisa: So many! We've already done about 40 Supergay interviews around the world. Our interview with Prince Manvendra Sign Gohil stands out. As the first member of the royal family to come out in India, the pressure grew so strong that at one time he had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. His parents even disowned him publicly. However, he now is India's most visible gay advocate who even made a couple of appearances on Oprah.
Jenni: For me, I loved meeting Bhumika Shrestha in Nepal. She's a proud transgender woman who works full time as an advocate and also has taken political leadership in her county. Thanks to her and fellow Supergay Sunil Pant, Nepal's Supreme Court recently passed same sex marriage and created a legal third gender.
Of all the places you've been, where do you think life is hardest for LGBT people?
Lisa: Without a doubt East Africa where homosexual acts are criminal. In upcoming weeks we'll be posting our stories about the Supergays of Kenya. Everyone we met there basically had received death threats at one time or another and yet they continue to do their work.
I'm based in Shanghai, so I'm interested to hear what you guys thought of the gay scene here? Who did you meet?
Lisa: We met with organizers from Shanghai Pride who started the first festival in 2009. Because the Chinese government doesn't allow demonstrations or parades, they have a week-long celebration of events geared towards the LGBT community. While the turnout is quite small compared to other international Pride festivals, the existence of the event makes all national media and sends out a strong message of hope to LGBT individuals living in more rural parts of China.
Jenni: We also met Xiangqi, who runs Shanghai Nvai, Shanghai’s only lesbian group for local Chinese. Shanghai Nvai brings together sophisticated, engaging, and progressive women for salon discussions and social events. We did a presentation for her group and found that the women had lots of interest to learn more about what lesbian life is like in the US and other countries. They had a ton of questions for us about our families, coming out, getting married, and children.
Jenni, I'm assuming from your last name that you have Chinese heritage, how was it for you visiting your ancestral roots?
Jenni: We went to Taiwan when my mom happened to be visiting my grandparents at the same time. Sadly, my parents hold strong Evangelical beliefs and do not accept our relationship or allow Lisa to come to family events. I struggled to spend time with my family while leaving Lisa in the hotel room. There is a lot of love in my family, but even though we've gone through therapy together and had many debates, they can not yet find a place for tolerance.
How's the gay scene in Taiwan?
Jenni: While my parents tend to think there are no gay people in Taiwan and that this is a Western phenomenon, Taipei has one of the most booming communities. Their Pride last year drew 30,000 people and we saw numerous lesbian couples while on the streets.
Do you think the trip has changed you?
Lisa: Well, we got engaged three months into the trip while in the Philippines. We both surprised each other by carrying engagement rings, unbeknownst to one another. Jenni beat me to it and sang me a song she wrote while we sat on the beach at Sunset. Our engagement and this trip really have deepened our commitment to one another. Spending this much time with one another is a make it or break it situation!
What's most surprised you about the trip?
Lisa: We've been surprised at how easy it's been to find Supergays to interview. Almost everyone person we've contacted has agreed to an interview and we've been able to reach many celebrities in each country.
What's most upset you?
Lisa: The social injustice in our world. We understand how privileged we are as Americans to have the freedom to travel almost anywhere. After spending a month in Kenya and listening to the fear of people for their personal safety, we had many conversations about asylum and relocation. Jenni and I felt the stress of visiting a place where we knew the law incriminated people like us. We definitely felt guilty hopping on a plane with such ease and taking off to Rio de Janiero.
What's most angered you?
Jenni: I've been the most angered by my parents' reaction to our engagement. I now know they won't be present at our wedding. Like many LGBT people, I just wish for more acceptance and less religious based homophobia.
What's most pleased you?
Lisa: We've really felt so welcomed by the LGBT community around the world. It feels like one big extended 'family'. There is so much positive change happening now. Brazil and Nepal's Supreme Courts have made all inclusive decisions to marriage equality. India recently decriminalized homosexual acts. Cambodia opened their first LGBT center. The momentum of the global gay movement is very fast and we're happy to share stories of this remarkable time.