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ASIA - Oct 29, 2004

The recipients of the 5th annual Utopia Awards, Asia’s leading gay human rights celebration, have been announced and will receive their awards at 8pm on Friday, 19 November at a festive celebration at Bangkok’s Roxy Bar & Club. The Utopia Awards are presented annually to individuals and organizations that have moved forward the cause of dignity and a better life for members of Asia’s gay, lesbian, bi and transgender communities.

Last year’s award recipients included Thai Senator Jon Ungpakorn, Taiwanese activist Wang Ping, Hong Kong activist Chung To, and former Thai kick-boxing champion Parinya Jaroenphon.

Emcee for the evening will be Natee Teerarojjanapongs, currently running for election as Thailand's first openly gay senator.

Five pioneers have been selected for recognition in 2004 and will be attending the ceremony:

Blue Diamond Society

Nepal's first and only LGBT rights group, founded in 2001, Blue Diamond is a rapidly expanding community-based organization which works on HIV/AIDS prevention and advocacy services for all sexual minorities in Nepal. It operates a drop-in centre, a free STD clinic and does outreach work, having already established informal networks in more than 15 cities throughout the country. The 3rd of its annual pride parades was held in Katmandu in August 2004, and more than 50 Nepalese women have now joined its lesbian, bisexual and transgender support group set up over a year ago. Blue Diamond's award will be accepted by its founder and driving force, Sunil Pant, who, soon after his return from study abroad, began work with destitute women in Nepal and soon recognised the unacknowledged needs of all sexual minorities in his country. Sunil has been tireless in focusing the world's attention on violations of the human rights of these minorities -- most recently the arbitrary arrest of 39 Blue Diamond members in August this year.

Billy Wong

The first Long Yang Club was founded in London in 1983 to provide a friendly and supportive social environment for gay Asians and non-Asians. The Club was named after Lord Long Yang, the King of Wei's favourite during the Chinese Zhou Dynasty, seen by later generations in China as a paragon and symbol of romantic male love. Billy Wong, a Malaysian from Ipoh who had seen enormous value in the Club's activities, hit in 1992 upon the idea of 'going global', and founded the Club's international wing, the LYCI. Since then, as LYCI's International Coordinator, he has overseen the founding of Long Yang Clubs in over 35 cities around the world, including Hong Kong, Manila and of course Bangkok, which this year is hosting LYCI's Annual Convention. Billy has given up huge amounts of his time to help fledgling Clubs, and for many years he paid for the expense of doing this, and of maintaining the website, out of his own pocket. He has helped to build the world's largest network of gay Asian/non-Asian groups.

Also receiving Utopia Awards are founders of Thailand's three gay pride festivals:

Pakorn Pimton

After doing grass roots AIDS education for 9 years, Pakorn Pimton became active in Glum Gay Tan Pai AIDS, a group of performers that focus on AIDS prevention and visit correctional facilities to educate prisoners, one of Thailand’s most overlooked risk groups. In 1999, Pakorn founded and helped coordinate the kingdom’s first pride festival, the Bangkok Gay Festival, which culminated with Thailand's first pride parade on Silom Road. Pakorn and his gay festival group also lent support and appeared at Thailand's other gay festivals over the years. Pakorn now works as a consultant for the new Bangkok government, focusing on education to increase awareness of issues relevant to gays and lesbians. In this role he has been helping to disseminate reading material about gay issues to more than 500 libraries, to facilitate regular public lectures, and to set up information hotlines.

Poonsak Sanchan

The first Phuket Gay Festival was held in 1999 shortly after Bangkok's first festival. A coalition of gay business and website owners organized the first parade. Poonsak Sanchan, known by his nickname Daeng, was one of the original founders and has continued at the helm of the Festival. As Phuket's unofficial gay ambassador, he has managed to gain consistent support from the local police, the Mayor and other political leaders for Phuket's annual event, with the 6th annual parade slated for early 2005. The 2004 parade had nearly 1,000 marchers, including school bands and community members, and was enjoyed by over 30,000 members of the public. Daeng is proud of the support which the Festival has been able to give to a local temple, Wat Pacha, which has served as a hospice for AIDS/HIV sufferers with no family or community support.

Jim Lumsden

A Pattaya resident since 1988, Jim Lumsden has been notable for his philanthropic activities, in keeping with his philosophy of having fun while helping others. In 2000 he took a new initiative and proposed to the many gay business owners in Pattaya that they organize a year-round series of charity events, culminating in a pride parade on World AIDS Day. The first Pattaya Gay Festival that year was a spectacular success, and throughout each succeeding year an array of events has taken place under Festival auspices. Jim can be found at the microphone at all these events, urging the participants to contribute to the chosen Festival charities and leading by example with his own generous contributions. To date over ten million Baht has been raised for the AIDS charity HEARTT 2000, the Naklua Drug Rehabilitation Centre, and other charities. In 2003, Jim was awarded Rotary's Paul Harris Fellowship by the business community in Pattaya, in recognition of his tireless work for humanitarian causes.

The 5th annual Utopia Awards are presented by Utopia, the first and largest gay Internet portal in Asia. Utopia will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary on the same evening. Time Out Guide Bangkok calls Utopia “the leading gateway to organizing a visit…” and TIME Magazine says Utopia is “a great resource for gay and lesbian travelers in Asia, dishing out the spice on even the most buttoned-up spots.”

The Awards celebration is open to the public. Roxy Bar & Club is located in Silom Soi 4 in Bangkok.

The ceremony is timed to kick off the festive Bangkok Pride weekend, when hundreds of thousands of gays, lesbians, friends and onlookers attend the annual parade and parties celebrating Thailand's diversity and tolerance.

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