Utopia Awards 2000

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The 1st annual Utopia Awards were launched on November 4 in the final year of the 20th century, to give recognition to individuals and businesses which have contributed to improving the quality of life for gay, lesbian, and transgendered communities in Asia. In recognition of Utopia's own origins, and in cooperation with the 2nd annual BANGKOK GAY FESTIVAL and PHUKET GAY FESTIVAL, this year's honorees were selected from Thailand. In future years, awardees will be nominated from throughout the region.

The unique design of the Utopia Award (right) incorporates the shape of a lotus bud, hand-glazed with the six colors of the gay rainbow, using the techniques of classic Thai benjarong porcelain.

all images are copyright 2000 by Utopia

Natee Teerarojjanapongs, performer and AIDS activist.
The Fraternity for AIDS Cessation in Thailand (FACT) was formed in the late 1980s by an openly gay Thai man who sought to unite Thailand's factionalized gay businesses to fend off a growing epidemic of HIV infection. FACT published a regular newsletter called Guula Gay, and for a period in the early 1990s operated Thailand’s first gay community center, called FACT House. FACT’s most celebrated successes have been its AIDS education activities. It began by sending its White Line Dance Troup to gay bars and saunas, but soon extended its orbit to wider Thai society, performing in factories, schools and shopping centers. Its current focus is AIDS education among very high-risk groups, particularly "men who have sex with men" at outdoor locations in Bangkok, who are marginalized even by the gay community itself. The founder of FACT effectively used the media, his remarkable communication skills, and his personal gift for theater to cultivate understanding and save countless thousands of lives. Our first Utopia Award goes to a genuine Thai hero, Natee Teerarojjanapongs.

Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, director of the Thai hit film, Satree Lex.
This year, Thai movie-goers were treated to a landmark movie which richly portrayed the daily challenges faced by many Thai gays. With an outstanding ensemble of young actors, Satree Lex (Iron Ladies) told the true story of a provincial volleyball team, made up almost entirely of gay and transgendered men, which went on to win the national championship. With its earthy gay slang and a compelling theme of inclusiveness and tolerance, the movie portrays gays as different, but equally capable, and able to be embraced honestly by both family and society. This message found a ready response in mainstream society and the movie quickly became the second highest-grossing Thai film of all time. An inaugural Utopia Award goes to the man who helmed the film, displaying humanity and courage in directing a Thai movie with a positive gay theme: Yongyoot Thongkongtoon.

Parit Chomcheun, a member of Anjaree,
accepted the award on behalf of the group.
Until the 1980s, there was little public acknowledgement of same-sex female relationships in Thailand as legitimate or meaningful. This discouraging situation meant that Thai lesbians felt that their pride and self-respect were compromised. In the early 1990s, Anjana Suvarnanonda and a small number of other women established a formal group to encourage public awareness of tom-dees (tomboys and ladies) to give public voice to the issues which concerned them, and to organize social activities for women who love women. They named it Anjaree, a clever play on words meaning "differing behavior". As the only organized grassroots homosexual rights organization to go public, they have often shouldered the burden of articulating the rights of gay men and transgendered people as well. To a great extent, their visibility and activism helped to overturn misguided anti-gay policies announced by the Rajabaht teachers colleges as well as Thai television authorities. In addition, their efforts have brought increased acceptance and pride to many Thai women. An inaugural Utopia Award goes to the admirable pioneers who still lead the Kingdom's oldest homosexual rights organization: the Anjaree Group.

Eric Allyn, author and publisher, accepted the award
on behalf of Floating Lotus and his partner, Samorn Chaiyana.
In 1986, a small publishing house was established in Bangkok to produce books which dealt honestly with the reality of gay and lesbian life in Thailand and other Asian countries. One of the company’s successful imprints is Bua Luang Books, which published Peter Jackson’s landmark study, Dear Uncle Go, which was nominated for an American Library Association Award in 1996. Another well-known imprint is Floating Lotus Books, which features translations, biographies and the acclaimed travel guides, The Men of Thailand and The Men of Vietnam. Through its publishing efforts, the company has appealed to Thai and foreign readers, throwing much-needed and thoughtful light on Thailand’s growing gay community. Most importantly, its publications have sensitized the world to the unique and complex gay and lesbian subcultures of Asia. An inaugural Utopia Award goes to the now-prestigious Floating Lotus Communications Company, whose partners Samorn Chaiyana and Eric Allyn still labour to produce ground-breaking books.

Highlights from the Utopia Awards Ceremony

Performers welcomed special guests
with a display of ancient Thai puppetry.

Dancers from FACT's White Line Dance Troup
provided an inspiring example of their craft.

The producer (left), crew, plus A and B
of Satree Lex pose with award winner, Natee.

Cast members of Satree Lex join Yongyoot on stage
with emcee extraordinaire Douglas Sanders (right).

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