Asia Undercovered Special Edition: Celebrating LGBTQ Asia

A look at history, and the issues, milestones and heroes of today

February is LGBT+ History month in several countries, so to celebrate that, this special edition of Asia Undercovered looks at stories about the LGBTQ+ movement in Asia.

The lead author for this week’s issue is Daniela Muenzel, a freelance writer and communications specialist.

Asia’s long LGBT+ history

First, read Sarah Ngu’s thorough piece for VICE last year looking at the false claim that some Asian governments make about LGBTQ+ culture being a western import. It covers Asia’s proud non-binary traditions dating back thousands of years.

An undercovered story on one of Japan’s cultural pioneers, Rune Naito, also known as the “godfather of kawaii”, or “cuteness”. Nevin Thompson explores the lesser known legacy the designer and illustrator left: setting the stage for queer culture to enter mainstream culture (Global Voices).

Even though India saw Section 377, criminalizing sex “against the order of nature” no longer applicable to consensual adult sex as of September 2018, persecution of LGBTQ+ community in the country goes beyond that bill. Jessica Hinchy’s piece in Himal Southasia looks at the historic criminalization of Hijras by British colonizers.

Change makers and milestones

A story that has been making headlines recently is when a South Korean transgender soldier, Byun Hee-soo’s plead to stay in the army, causing ripples in a highly conservative and sometimes intolerant country (Asia Times).

At the same time, South Korea’s ‘K-pop for queer’ is part of an expanding network with over 30 groups in Asia. Beh Lih Yi wrties about LGBTQ+ choirs using music as a gentler approach to fighting discrimination. (Trust).

2019 was a year of promising changes for Japan’s LGBTQ+ community. Local governments and courts took incremental steps, rather than waiting for the go-slow Abe government to lead. Rurika Imahashi on bottom-up LGBT+ progress outpacing national politics.

Trans students at Chulalongkorn University in Thailandwon a uniform regulation reform in November, after filing a complaint for the lack of official protocol and previous cases of severe penalties and discrimination toward trans students (Prachatai).

Taiwan saw a milestone in May 2019, becoming the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. This prompted a rush of commercial surrogacy agencies to help LGBTQ+ couples seeking to start families. Rik Glauert on new opportunities for gay couples, and a divided public (Japan Times).

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Challenges and ongoing issues

In Indonesia, the recent case of an Indonesian exchange student sexually assaulting nearly 200 men in Manchester has fueled more anger in a country where LGBTQ+ discrimination was already widespread. Ian Lloyd Neubauer looks at the rise of homophobia in a country that is getting more religious and conservative (Al Jazeera).

China just marked its annual Lunar New Year vacation, a time for most individuals to visit and catch up with family members (though less so this year). This piece in Post of Asia looks at why some members of China’s LGBTQ+ community dread the vacation interval, which to them is a time to be confronted with unwelcome questions.

Last year, Brunei saw a drastic drawback, as the tiny kingdom made moves to bring in the punishment of death by stoning for gay sex.

Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.