The loudest, proudest LGBT festivals in Asia
MYANMAR’S &Proud festival gained attention this week for going public for the first time since its inception in 2014.
Taking place for the first time out in the open at Thakin Mya Park in downtown Yangon, the vibrant event stretches across two consecutive weekends jam-packed with films, performances, lip sync battles, Q&As with filmmakers, drag Olympics, parties, games, panel discussions, and DJs.
WATCH: With drag queen Olympics, film screenings and a rainbow-clad choir, Myanmar’s LGBT festival comes out for the first time in a public park as the country cautiously moves towards more tolerance pic.twitter.com/bXzCxdHhY5
— AFP news agency (@AFP) January 29, 2018
It’s a positive development for the socially conservative nation where same-sex relationships are discriminated and still considered illegal.
In fact, Myanmar’s Section 377 of the Penal Code prohibits same-sex sexual activity and has been used to target LGBT people. Along with fines, the punishment is imprisonment for 10 years to life.
The &Proud organizers were amazed to get the go-ahead to hold the festival in public. “I would say this is not just for the LGBT community. This is for the whole country, acknowledging equality and basic human rights,” said 33-year-old festival co-director Hla Myat Tun.
There were some 6,000 people in attendance on the first day alone, an impressive boost in crowd numbers when compared to the 2,000 to 3,000 in previous years. Perhaps this will help pave the way for Myanmar to someday become another Asian country to recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, the first being Taiwan.
In May 2017, Taiwan’s highest court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, making it the first country in Asia to do so. Although it’s still a long way to go for LGBT rights in the region, at the very least a public festival would allow room for education and recognition.
On that note, here are some LGBT festivals in Asia that are worth a mention:
Tokyo Rainbow Pride, Japan
Japan’s Tokyo Rainbow Pride is a week-long festival that celebrates the diversity of Tokyo’s LGBT community. Now in its seventh year, the event features host of events (films, meetings, exhibitions, parties) belonging to dozens of different LGBTQ groups and organizations from Tokyo and beyond. The vibrant celebration culminates with more than 6,000 people making their way through Tokyo’s Shibuya and Harajuku districts, and a parade of floats.
Hand in Hand Festival, South Korea
Hand in Hand is the region’s biennial Queer Choral Festival, bringing together LGBT choirs from across the continent. The festival, which features performances by LGBT choruses active in Asia, was first held in November 2015 in Taipei. Hand in Hand Seoul took place at Mapo Art Center in Seoul in June 2017, featuring performances by eight choruses a total of around 160 members, including Taiwan’s G-Major, Hong Kong’s Harmonics, and China’s Beijing Queer Chorus. When speaking about the event, UNNInetwork activist Nagi told The Hankyoreh, “Rather than just allow despair and fear to rule us, we are going to join hands and sing together in one voice about human dignity, equality, love, and peace.”
Pink Dot, Singapore
Singapore’s Pink Dot is an annual, non-profit, free-for-all event which started in 2009, in support of the LGBT community. As Singapore’s first public, open-air pro-LGBT event, it established the record for the greatest turnout for a gathering at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park, and a milestone for the country’s LGBT community. Attendees of Pink Dot gather to form a “pink dot” to show support for inclusiveness, diversity, and the freedom to love. The events usually also feature concert performances and community booths by organizations supporting the LGBT community and cause.
Metro Manila Pride, The Philippines
The Philippines’ Metro Manila Pride unites the country’s LGBTQ community in nine hours of activities, performances, and a march of symbolic unity. As the longest-running Pride March in Southeast Asia, the event empowers LGBTQ people by celebrating the growing community and advocating the issues (violence in the home, discrimination in the workplace, and bullying in schools) that impact its members.
Viet Pride, Vietnam
Under the banner “We are Queer, We are Here”, Vietnam’s Viet Pride event in Hanoi aims to promote awareness and visibility for same-sex love and gender-nonconformity in common spaces like the workplace, schools, and cafes throughout Vietnam. Hundreds would take part in the colorful parade that takes place on bicycles and motorbikes – the most quintessentially Vietnamese forms of transport. Viet Pride participants can also participate in film screening, workshops, panel discussions, and ongoing dialogues centered on LGBTQ rights.
Now in its ninth consecutive year, ShanghaiPRIDE is an annual, week-long LGBT pride festival that takes place in Mainland China. It was first held in 2009 and was significant in that it was the first time a mass LGBT event has taken place in mainland China. Packing in parties, talent shows, plays, art exhibits, a Pride run, trivia nights, and panel discussions, the festival allows participants to paint the town rainbow every June.