What you need to know
A landmark year for the LGBT community opened with one of Taiwan's own receiving a special award for activism.
When Newsweek publicly announced that I was one of the 15 members of the "Creative Class of 2019," I seriously had to pinch myself. I was discussing video streaming services at a conference in Mumbai, where I had been invited to speak about GagaOOlala's plans to forge Indian alliances in preparation for the roll-out of our services in South Asia
During the conference break, I read about the other 14 listed personalities, and felt immediately "outclassed" by the Noble Prize winners & nominees, and CEOs running billion-dollar companies.
The award salutes "innovators who have developed creative solutions to the problems that face our world," and I was recognized as an LGBT rights activist.
I used the opportunity to reflect on whether I was indeed developing creative solutions to global problems, or indeed if I deserved the accolade as an "LGBT rights activist," given that so many friends and people I admire work tirelessly and courageously in NGOs in Taiwan and beyond for marriage equality, transgender rights, decriminalization or HIV prevention.
The award centered around my work both as director of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival, and founder of the three-year-old GagaOOlala, Asia's first and one of the world's largest (if not the largest) LGBTQ film streaming service.
GagaOOlala currently houses close to 1,000 features, shorts, documentaries and web-series, catering to a region of almost 700 million people (Southeast Asia), including many countries that have no legal channels for accessing LBGTQ+ content. When we incorporate South Asia into our service later this year, we will include another 1.8 billion (!) people into our subscription service, or roughly a quarter of the global population.
Aside from our subscription service in Southeast and South Asia, we’ll also be introducing single movie purchase options (T-VOD) globally so that LGBTQ+ film lovers from around the world can watch our content.
We also aim to revolutionize the way in which queer content finds global financial and manpower resources, through the launch of GOL Studios, an LGBTQ+ crowdsourcing platform. The project, set to debut in March, will also strive to accelerate the speed in which film projects can progress from development to production and distribution.
Taken together, the two platforms address the longstanding problems of LGBTQ+ people not finding movies with characters and storylines to which they can relate, as well as compelling LGBTQ+ projects not receiving sufficient resources.
These are our business objectives, and the dreams we hope become true. We have many challenges ahead as we compete in a world of behemoths like Netflix, China’s iQiyi and thousands of other on demand video services with much deeper pockets, but we are certain that our business model and community is unique, viable, and valuable.
This leads to the question of why I was recognized as a LGBT activist instead of a business person. In my world, there is no compartmentalization of the two, no bifurcation of NGO and corporation, nor delineation of what is a hardcore activist and a passionate corporate manager.
Moreover, the terms social enterprise and business-minded activist are not oxymorons. After years of running an NGO like the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF) as a business operation not reliant on government support, and now spearheading GagaOOlala, a business that has positive societal externalities, I realize that, regardless of the entity, I am in possession of something very powerful that are often underestimated: stories.
They can affect people's lives; opening eyes and ears, touching hearts, changing minds and raising voices in support of change, and I hope, influencing votes to make that change a reality.
They create a ripple effect that ebbs and flows for as long as we continue creating, sharing and inspiring, providing an emotional anchor for those who want to find artistic inspiration, cinematic escape, or even just spiritual validation. For non-LGBT+ people, our platform helps with diversity education, empathy building, and societal examination. We hope to raise the question: "Do the characters from these movies differ from ourselves so much that their love should be criminalized or denied the same basic human rights, such as the right to marry?"
Not all activists need to hit the streets and organize mass rallies, although I have done my fair share of those over the years. I see myself more as a daily activist-practitioner who is lucky enough to lead a company that has incorporated promoting societal acceptance and progress as part of our corporate success. There are many LGBTQ+ activists who are fighting the good fight to make Taiwan the first country in Asia to achieve Marriage Equality, to decriminalize homosexuality (Section 377A) in Singapore, to put on the first Pride Float in Yangon, and all over the world, many of them risking their lives. I am in awe of their stamina, tenacity and bravery. We do not know how to do the work that they do, but what we can do is use our channels and platforms to amplify their voices and make sure their efforts cross borders, languages and cultural differences. This is our activism, and we hope to encourage more enterprises and corporations to use their strengths to tackle all the myriad of problems we face globally.
The Lunar New Year is coming, the Year of the Pig, the last of the 12-year Chinese Zodiac cycle of animals before it rotates again. The Golden Globes and Oscars are filled with LGBT-related films that have either won or been nominated. It is the 10th Year of the Mumbai Queer Film Festival as well as Singapore's Pink Dot, 20 Years of Seoul Pride, 30 years of the HK Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and, of course, 50 years since the landmark protests by the gay community in Stonewall, New York.
In short, we are on the cusp of a landmark year of achievements for the LGBT community, and one in which I hope, after all our activism, Taiwan and Thailand achieve some type of marriage equality.
Editor David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)
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