With Memorial Day weekend around the corner, Americans will embark on summer vacations, with barbecues and margaritas as top priorities and social responsibility near the bottom. Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazols, a thirtysomething couple from San Francisco, and their ambitious project Out and Around are the exception to that rule.
Chang, a business manager for eBay, and Dazols, a licensed clinical social worker, began dating three years ago. But their happy relationship had never been through the ultimate test: traveling the world with one’s partner. The two decided to launch a year-long project, Out and Around: Stories from a Not-So-Straight Journey, to travel around the world and document the movement toward LGBT rights wherever they went. Armed with a video camera, laptops and cellphones, they posted a record of their journey on their blog and recorded interviews with “Supergays”—the leading LGBT activists of South America, Asia, Australia and points in between.
“Gay youth still get bullied every day, gays everywhere still face a tremendous amount of homophobia and gay rights still don’t exist in much of the developing world,” they wrote on their blog, describing their motivation. With the project, they hope to inspire gay youth with examples of successful gay people from around the world, decrease homophobia, and raise awareness of LGBT struggles in the developing world and support their movement toward equality.
Dropping the trappings of their Silicon Valley lifestyle was a challenge that got easier once they committed themselves to the journey. “It’s so easy to daydream about traveling, but so hard to take the leap of faith and leave your sense of security. This is especially the case when traveling in the developing world on a backpackers budget, and you have to put aside some of your everyday comforts to go with the flow,” Dazols tells GO. “As soon as we unplugged our smartphones and left behind our schedules, we felt a huge amount of relief. We also began to live fully in the present.”
Their itinerary began in June 2011 in New Zealand and Australia, then stopped at cities in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Taiwan, China, India, Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru before returning to San Francisco this month. By design, they avoided the First World countries of the northern hemisphere; all the better to illuminate unsung heroes of the LGBT movement in developing countries where acceptance of homosexuality is not guaranteed. Chang and Dazols themselves faced cultural misunderstandings routinely.
“We’ve had lots of strange looks from people in hotels when we ask for one bed (“un matrimonial” in South America). I often get addressed as “Sir.” We find ourselves having to explain our relationship to other tourists and locals,” Dazols observes. “While that can get tiring, we realize that it’s also an incredible opportunity to impact someone’s views about gays and lesbians.”
That willingness to reach out brought Dazols and Chang into contact with inspiring LGBT activists—Supergays—wherever they went. Travel, and the cultural exchanges it fosters, was the link and catalyst behind many of the Supergays’ activism. People from disparate corners of the world—such as Maria Rachid, lesbian activist and legislator in Buenos Aires; Brazilian LGBT media mogul Andre Fischer; and straight ministers Michael Kimindu and John Makokha in Kenya—cite time traveling or studying in the United States as the experience that opened their eyes to the possibilities of LGBT equality. Dazols and Chang conducted insightful, revealing interviews with dozens of these brave leaders—and say that finding Supergays, even in homophobic, dangerous countries, was remarkably easy.
“People always want to connect with extended ‘Family,” Chang says. “We’re truly in the middle of a contagious fight for civil rights across the globe. We’ve seen a new LGBT center pop up in Cambodia, activists organizing Gay Pride in China, and an openly gay man running for Senate in Kenya.”
The couple—now engaged, after Chang’s surprise proposal in the Philippines—are planning a wedding as well as the transformation of their blog and video interviews into a full-length documentary. Keep in touch with them at outandabout.com.