A Tale of Asian LGBTQ ‘Fraud’ Awards

A Tale of Asian LGBTQ ‘Fraud’ Awards
Photo: Henry Lam
What you need to know

A recent LGBTQ award in Shanghai has caused a stir in the community, which claims there were many irregularities.

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In recent years, multinational companies have poured a lot of money into the Asian region to promote their “corporate social responsibility” to meet the demand of the rising “pink market.” Several agencies have set up projects like the LGBTQ Awards and Inclusion Indexes to match these funds, but the quality of these awards is being seriously questioned.

One of them, the “Asia LGBT Milestone Awards” (ALMA 2016), was held during the ShanghaiPRIDE (SHP) and has turned into a real scandal. Dozens of Asian LGBTQ activists have signed a bilingual open letter accusing ELEMENT, ALMA’s organizer and a gay magazine, of tampering with the winner’s list on top of other forms of misconduct. They even called ALMA “a sham.”

Hiro Mizuhara, the founder of ALMA and ELEMENT, has brushed off the accusations and blames everything on “miscommunication.”

How did this award end up in such chaos? An investigation has uncovered some very questionable actions of the part of the organizers.

‘Further adjustments’

According to SHP, representatives from local NGOs, Asian countries, the media, sponsors and panel speakers formed the board of judges at ALMA 2016. SHP coordinated the entire process and the final results were sent to ELEMENT.

ELEMENT then justified its intervention by saying that the judges were only there to “assist our editor [to process] as much information as possible and review the voting results should it need further adjustments” — even after the final results were computed.

The award announcements were mainly in Chinese, although the event was supposed to be international. The “Milestone of the Year” was not announced on stage but later published on ALMA’s website. “Mr. C,” who attended as the original winner of the “Hero of the Year” award, found out it was given to Intersex activist Hiker Chiu.

Chiu was invited to ALMA as a nominee of the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Is it a coincidence that Mizuhara announced on June 3, about three weeks before ALMA, that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported ALMA for its new documentary project in which Chiu is one of the featured activists?

SHP team members were banned from the WeChat group created by Mizuhara when they demanded justifications for the changes to the winners’ list.

ELEMENT also claimed that, “We didn't have the time to announce all the winners.”

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Actual voting results uploaded by SHP.
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Comparison of the ALMA Winners.
Broken promises

The sponsored funds were mainly provided by IBM and to be used solely to cover expenses. Only a small fraction of the budget was allocated to the LGBTQ activists and nominees, yet the promised payments were never made.

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Budget claimed by ELEMENT in their open letter.

ELEMENT promised to provide a travel allowance for four LGBTQ award nominees and judges from Taiwan, Mongolia and South Korea to attend the event. The SHP team had to pay an extra US$450 (3,000 RMB) to accommodate these guests as ELEMENT had allegedly removed the accommodation arrangement from the operation manual without consulting SHP or the attendees.

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(Top left) ELEMENT promised in the initiative proposal the accommodation for attending LGBTQ NGOs. (Bottom left) The payment arrangement that was never executed. (Right) The arrangement removed from the operation manual.

Mizuhara stated in his subsequent open letter that the organizers would reimburse the attendees’ airfare, but all requests for reimbursements were ignored and no payment has been made as of July 10.

Strange allocation of resources

The resources allocated for the prizes and setup were minimal. There were no printed programs at the event. Some winners were told their certificates had been “lost.” Large rainbow teddy bears were presented to the winners as “trophies,” while smaller rainbow teddy bears were given away as souvenirs.

Attendees from the LGBTQ NGOs were ignored and unaccompanied throughout the event. Only high-profile business leaders and sponsors were greeted and invited to have lunch with ELEMENT’s personnel at the hotel.

Where did the sponsored funds actually go?

While ELEMENT refused to accommodate the attendees, they booked six rooms for two nights in the sponsoring Kempinski Hotel for “VIP guests.” None of the rooms was ever used. A total amount of 11,520 RMB (US$1,725) was simply wasted.

Nearly half of the sponsorship (US$6,300) went to the PR firm “Fabstory,” which Mizuhara hired to deal with the admin, marketing and production of ALMA. ELEMENT has also claimed US$3,800 for travel and hotel expenses for the performers and the media.

ELEMENT’s cover boy Hero Tai flew in from Taiwan to be the MC of the event and South Korean performer Brian Lee traveled from Seoul. Other performers were drag queens and dancers.

Attendees commented that the performances were “unnecessary.” In the open letter, the LGBTQ leaders wrote, “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.”

While the event was packaged by ELEMENT as its own PR show, it also seems to have served as a personal leisure trip for Mizuhara and his friends.

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(Left) Mizuhara said in Facebook he was taking his “good friends” to attend “his ALMA.” (Right) Christian Goh claimed they went to various nightclubs around Shanghai every night since their arrival. Mizuhara was frequently seen in the photos, having champagnes and wine.

Despite SHP’s objections, Mizuhara insisted in having at least three “staff members” fly in from Singapore. Mizuhara called them “good friends” later in his Facebook post. Christian Goh “helped to do the hair” for Hero for the event and the responsibilities of the other two were unknown.

‘Little tricks’

Sources have disclosed that another individual also worked for Mizuhara to deal with SHP but later resigned. He felt undignified by what he called Mizuhara’s “little tricks.” Mizuhara allegedly kept the SHP team in the dark on all money deals and the SHP volunteers had to line up most of the sponsors for ALMA. The price tag for the two venues for Kempinski and Pearl were as high as 100,000 RMB.

This ex-staff was asked to set up “Fabstory,” but he refused the assignment due to a disagreement on potential money laundering in ALMA.

“Fabstory” is actually a “shell company” in Hong Kong and was created just before ALMA on May 5. Fabstory claimed to have a “PR Headquarter” in Hong Kong but there is no office. Their webpage provides only their e-mail address. The only staff, assistant PR manager Andy Wong, is based in Shanghai.

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BR of Fabstory showing the company shared the same address of it registration agent.

ELEMENT did earn money directly from this supposedly free event. In the invitation card, attendees were asked to get a QR code from WeChat-Pay for the RSVP. Hundreds of attendees were charged 30 RMB through the QR code for an interpretation device that was supposed to be free of charge. SHP was not aware of such hidden charge.

Holding off the promised payments is another routine for ELEMENT. Back in ALMA 2015, Yi-Sheng Ng of ILGA-Asia was supposed to get paid for writing articles for ELEMENT but he was told that the articles were turned in too late and so no payment was made.

‘Deleting’ the co-organizer

The investigation unveils the pattern in which Mizuhara and ELEMENT allegedly tricked the co-organizers and local LGBTQ NGOs. After having obtained all sponsors and contacts, ELEMENT downplayed their importance and pushed them away.

The co-organizers of 2015 (ILGA-Asia) and 2016 (SHP) both commented that ELEMENT was new in these cities and “didn't have anything to build upon.” Ng recalled, “the collaboration [with ELEMENT] was really very strange because I was irritated by [at] them.”

SHP assigned 12 volunteers to assist ALMA on the day of the event but they were told their services were no longer needed. At the same time, Desmond Yeo, the marketing manager of ELEMENT blamed publicly they received “no support” from the SHP.

Mizuhara was hostile toward the SHP team since the groundwork was done. He tried to ruin the working relationship intentionally by making irrational threats and accusations over various matters using foul language.

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Hiro Mizuhara sent threatening WeChat messages to Charlene Liu requesting the contacts of Sir Ian McKellen, which the matter actually was out of Liu’s control.
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(Left) Hiro Mizuhara “shouted” repeatedly the F words at LeiLei Li, the Outreach Manager of SHP. (Right) Mizuhara threatened to deny entry of the guests invited by SHP, forcing them to handover the contact list.
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“Harmony”: Mizuhara and Liu posed together for a photo at the day of ALMA. There is a different story behind their friendly hugs and smiles.

Why SHP continued to work with ALMA even after having witnessed Mizuhara’s rudeness and untrustworthy behavior? Charlene Liu, co-founder of SHP, replied, “We believed we could build a better network with other Asian LGBTQ communities and businesses. We see the positive long-term advantages of unity and support. Also we think LGBTQ movements and its leaders should be recognized.”

Behind the ‘Mizuhara’ brand
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Faces of “Mizuhara.” From top to bottom, left to right: Profile in ALMA/ELEMENT/Fabstory, LinkedIn, BR of Fabstory, Chinese ID and Curriculum Vitae.

As indicated in the BR of Fabstory, YiQi Fu (付㦤奇) is the legal founder who is in fact Mizuhara himself. However, Mr. Fu is a Chinese ID cardholder and his household register is in Ningbo. According to the Japanese and Chinese immigration law, dual citizenship is not allowed. Since YiQi Fu is his legal name, one would question the purposes behind the “Mizuhara” brand.

Mr. Fu created ALMA on top of ELEMENT to catch the big fish. After gaining fame, contacts, brands and corporations support at the expense of LGBTQ NGOs volunteers and partners, he is now planning to earn the hard cash from “Pink Market” in the Asia Region.

On April 27, ELEMENT announced an ambitious “employment plan.” Fu claimed his “EPIC Media” group had “branch offices” in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei and Shanghai, but the the “PR headquarters” in Hong Kong are already a fraud. According to the business registry, the co-owner is another Chinese “Hui-Lian Fang” in FuZhou and not, as it claims, “Yusuke Otsuka.”

Aftermath

Why do these kinds of LGBTQ ceremonies have to be held in luxury hotels? Why was it that at the end of the event, all the community leaders had earned was just a piece of paper? Why were the majority of grassroots LGBTQ communities not engaged in the event?

This is a great opportunity for the LGBTQ community to reflect on the idea and to reclaim its own awards. As Asian LGBTQ leaders stated in the letter, “We are the people who shape history, so let us not leave it to others to write it for us.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone.

Further reading:

Open Letter: Asian LGBT groups called for a boycott ALMA Awards (Bilingual)
http://goo.gl/THdWkK

Asian LGBT Milestone Awards – Winners (ALMA Official Site)
http://almaawards.org/official-award-recipients-of-3rd-annual-lgbt-milestone-awards-2016/

Open Letter by Mr. Fu and ELEMENT (Chinese version)
http://goo.gl/UoBPDb

Open Letter by Mr. Fu and ELEMENT (English “original” version)
http://goo.gl/EqQbdo

Recruitment announcement by EPIC Media:
https://goo.gl/p71Y95

(This article was updated on 2016.07.19.)

First Editor: J. Michael Cole
Second Editor: Edward White

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