The “Asia LGBT Milestone Awards” (ALMA) sounded like a great idea. The event sought to highlight the biggest milestones of the year, while offering the opportunity for the community to network with one another and potential sponsors. Organised by the Singaporean gay periodical Element Magazine, the event’s record of two previous award ceremonies convinced the grassroots volunteers at ShanghaiPRIDE to integrate the event into their schedule.
To everybody’s regret, the event was a fiasco. Prior to the event, ALMA organizers tapped into the limited personal and financial resources of local volunteer-based groups like ShanghaiPRIDE. At the event, the host magazine followed their own agenda and focused narrowly on the profitability of "pink commerce" rather than the range of issues represented by this year's milestones. It is a shame that Asia’s queer activism was represented by an event which claims for itself the diverse “LGBT” moniker, but formed panel discussions not at all representative of the diversity in our community. High gloss gay magazines have their readers, but an award ceremony celebrating hyper-masculinity and drag fails to represent the wider array of possibilities the community is continuously exploring.
The announcement of the award winners was the pinnacle of this disappointment. Though ALMA organizers had invited a broad array of community leaders to nominate and select this year's winners, with procedures elaborately orchestrated by the volunteers at ShanghaiPRIDE, this was all a sham. The votes of the judges were ignored blatantly by the organizers from Element Magazine. Instead, the magazine unceremoniously selected the winners on their own, based on the personal preference of the magazine’s editor, all behind the cover of the numerous hard-working international activists whose votes actually did not matter at all. With this practice, the magazine has harmed the reputation of all unsuspecting supporters and sponsors, while disgracing the nominees and their tremendous voluntary efforts. A list of this year’s actual elected winners, prior to the magazine’s intervention, is included below.
The truth is we still need a ceremony recognizing queer activism in Asia, so that the milestones we achieve are recorded. Too often the bold and relentless efforts of activists around the continent are left unrecognised. Media around the globe report for weeks about the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. But which mainstream media outlets report on activists in Seoul exposing themselves to religious fanaticism on the streets? Who reports on Southeast Asian grassroots activists giving their best to include commitments against sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) discrimination in the ASEAN Charter? And who will honour the work of those demanding sexual freedom in places where the entire concept of freedom is open to debate?
We need to see this experience with the Asia LGBT Milestone Awards as an opportunity to reclaim our awards. We are the people who shape history, so let us not leave it to others to write it for us. Let us not abandon the field to those whose priority is to maximum profit, or streamline our diversity to fit the “pink market,” even at the cost of our hard won progress. We welcome businesses who ally themselves against SOGI discrimination and we are thankful for their support. However, we—the community—will continue carving out the future. With this declaration, we invite everyone to join us in this journey.
An event of this importance must reflect true community engagement. Therefore, we call for a boycott of all future ALMA events until there are significant changes that guarantee a more honest, transparent, and accurate representation of our community's history including an awards outcome that respects the votes of community jury members.
Signers (in order of signature):
Thorben Li Leilei (ShanghaiPRIDE)
Adam Robbins (Beijing Gender)
Charlene Liu (ShanghaiPRIDE)
Ying Xin (Beijing LGBT Center)
Joanne Leung (Transgender Resource Center)
Mr. C (TransChina)
Popo Fan (Independent Filmmaker)
Chae-Yoon Hahn (Korea Queer Culture Festival)
Holic Eun oh Yang (Korea Queer Film Festival)
Candy Darim Yun (Korean Sexual-Minority Culture & Rights Center)
Steven Paul Bielinski (WorkForLGBT)
Hiker Chiu (Organization Intersex International-Chinese, OII Chinese)
Bin Xu (Common Language)
Liu Shi (Beijing Gender)
Yili Hal (Xinjiang LGBT Minorities)
Qiu Hua (Paris 2018 Gay Games 10)
Fei Yu (Chengdu Tongle)
Xiu Bin (Jiangxi LGBT Together)
Summer (Jiangxi Universities Rainbow Alliance)
Billy Stewart (&Proud Yangon)
Sadaat Munir (AKS Festival)
Jenny Man Wu (Beijing Queer Film Festival)
The Actual Winners of the ALMA 2016 Vote
Milestone of the Year: Mongolia LGBT Centre
The Mongolia LGBT Centre was the first and remains the only organisation in Mongolia focusing on SOGI rights. Led first by Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel and then by Anaraa Nyamdorj, they lobbied, since 2008, for the first criminal code in the region to include a law defending LGBT individuals against hate speech and hate crimes. The law eventually passed in December 2015.
Hero of the Year: Mr C
Mr C is the plaintiff of China’s first transgender employment discrimination lawsuit. Being the first transman in China to seek legal action for employment discrimination, he helps bring injustices trans-people face while seeking employment to public attention. He is now devoted to this case full-time and would like to work as a full-time activist after pursuing this case.
Campaign of the Year: Wunderman
Wunderman was the first international agency to initiate an ad campaign for a LGBT movement in China. Throughout the ShanghaiPRIDE festival, the Holding Hands campaign collected over 800,000 hits. Wunderman came up with the ad campaign to promote the 2015 ShanghaiPRIDE slogan: “Love is Our Future”. They put together a print and digital campaign featuring queer individuals and their family holding hands to show that love is diverse and inclusive and love is equal. The agency promoted this slogan through mainstream media to support diversity and inclusion.
Entrepreneur of the Year: WorkForLGBT
WorkForLGBT was founded by Steven Paul Bielinski in 2013. It is a Mainland Chinese volunteer led nonprofit community platform creating a link between the corporate world and the LGBT community through research, job fairs, Diversity and Inclusion and Pink Market corporate conferences, and community / LGBT employee networking events. WorkForLGBT believes nonprofit community ideals need to guide businesses as they interact with LGBT employees and customers. They encourage visible and engaged LGBT employees advocating for equality inside their firms to help make the business case for equality.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Li Yinhe
Prof. em. Li Yinhe, born 1952, is China’s prime LGBTI researcher and activist. She began enlightening the Chinese public about homosexuality as early as 1992. She submitted unsuccessful proposals for the legalisation of same-sex marriage three times between 2003 and 2006. In early 2015 she acknowledged that her partner is a transman, resulting in interest and respect by the public, including an official editorial from the state outlet People’s Daily. It was an important step in legitimizing the transgender community in China.
Young Leader of the Year: Fan Popo
Beijing-based filmmaker Fan Popo sued China’s censorship authority (SAPPRFT) after his documentary “Mama Rainbow” was removed from Chinese video portals. Local courts allowed the case to proceed, which was itself a milestone. This concluded with the court ruling against the Chinese censors on technical grounds in December 2015. SAPPRFT has since continued its practice of removing LGBT films from Chinese websites.
Politician of the Year: Joanne Leung
Joanne Leung is a transwoman who ran an election campaign for the legislative council in 2015. She has been working for the LGBT community for more than 10 years, and is now the chairperson of Hong Kong Transgender Resource Center and the chairperson of the Pink Alliance in Hong Kong. Although she didn’t win her legislative council election, she ranked number one in public surveys. She inspired the LGBT community while raising the awareness of gender diversity in Hong Kong.
Diversity Champion of the Year: UNDP "Being LGBTI in Asia"
"Being LGBTI in Asia" is a regional programme aimed at addressing inequality, violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and promotes universal access to health and social services. It is a collaboration between governments, civil society, regional institutions and other stakeholders to advance the social inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. The programme recognizes that LGBTI people are highly marginalized and face varied forms of stigma and discrimination based on their distinct sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.
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