By Alex Orué
We’ve known Lisa Dazols for many years now, from the journey around the world she and her wife Jennifer Chang took back in 2011 after leaving their 9 to 5 jobs in the U.S. to connect and learn from the queer experience in other parts of the world (you can watch their “Out & Around” documentary and download our EduGuide that accompanies it here!). Taiwan plays an important role in their film as they share Jennifer’s roots and challenges with her family’s acceptance of their relationship with Lisa.
As life would have it, some years after their documentary was done, their paths lead them to move to the island, and even though Taiwan is one of the most socially progressive nations in the world (it was the first government to legalize marriage equality in Asia back in 2019!), Lisa and Jenni realized that there were many things left to do to achieve full equality for LGBTQ+ people. While the rest of the world was in lockdown with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, thanks to its closed-borders policy, Taiwan was one of the very few countries that was able to continue with day-to-day activities without much disruption. Lisa and other activists took the opportunity to raise awareness — and funds — for local LGBTQ+ organizations through a cycling community building initiative they call: Asia Rainbow Ride.
In an email exchange, I interviewed Lisa and Olivia Wu, also a co-founder and the director of Asia Rainbow Ride, on the origins of this initiative that the It Gets Better Project has been supporting through our Global Grants initiative since 2021, the support she’s found in Taiwan, why she thought of It Gets Better as a partner, and her hopes for the future.
What made you start this initiative in Taiwan?
Lisa Dazols: “When I first moved to Taiwan, I went on a week-long bike ride circumnavigating the island. Taiwan is well known for having the best cycling in Asia with fantastic bike infrastructure. I also discovered a vibrant queer life and a beacon of hope in the region since Taiwan is the only country in Asia with marriage equality.
So I started to think this would be the ideal place to start a charity bike ride in Asia similar to the experience of the AIDS Lifecycle in California where I am from. I started to reach out to local queer friends who jumped on board right away, believing that together we could create an experience to change lives in Asia.”
What made you see the need for something like the Asia Rainbow Ride in your community?
Olivia Wu: “Taiwan is a place where democratic ideas and progressive thinking have flourished in recent decades. Our Pride Parade in Taipei can draw up to 200,000 people making it the largest gay pride event in East Asia.
I imagined that a “Pride parade on bicycles” could be a great multi-day event to try something fun. Most of the people who initially joined our event had never biked such a far distance. But now after three years, we have become cyclists together and not only improved our own health but strengthened friendships amongst Rainbow Riders.
We are a diverse group: LGBTQ people, allies, Taiwanese, and foreigners. Everyone is encouraged to be themselves and have fun. The energy of the group pushes you.”
How much local support did you find when launching the first year?
Olivia Wu: “We had support from the local NGOs and community leaders from the very beginning. We wanted to co-create this event with them so that it would be something that both the local Taiwanese community as well as the international community would be interested in. In the first year, most of our cyclists were international residents of Taiwan, but by the third year, we had more local Taiwanese participants.
We started with a budget of $0 and have been a volunteer-based movement, so we were lucky to have the right people come together in our initial years who really believed in our cause and gave us their time and resources.”
Why was the It Gets Better Project a good option for you to seek support?
Olivia Wu: “We’re really aligned with the mission to uplift and empower people around the globe. When the Asia Rainbow Ride goes across the streets of Taiwan, we create more visibility for the LGBT movement.
The Asia Rainbow Ride is a charity bike ride that raises money for Taiwan’s leading NGOs that support the LGBT community in Asia. Among their many programs, they support LGBT youth with support groups, educational programs in schools, and videos about LGBT people in the workplace geared towards young adults.”
What’s in the future for the Asia Rainbow Ride?
Lisa Dazols: “We’re excited to grow for our fourth annual Asia Rainbow Ride this October 20-22, 2023. We’ve started our own NGO and hired a Director for the first time. Now that borders have opened, we look forward to people coming to Taipei to experience the Asia Rainbow Ride and then stay through Taipei’s Pride Parade.
We see this event as a collaboration between individual cyclists, the local Taiwan government, LGBT NGOs in Asia, and private companies who sponsor the event. Together we can forward the LGBT movement and increase the global momentum in Asia.”
This year’s Asia Rainbow Ride edition will be from October 20-22. To know more about their registration and other forms of support, please visit their website here.
Here’s a video and gallery of photos from last year’s edition: