Jenni was from Illinois, although her parents came from Taipei. She earned her degree in Economics at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She met Lisa when she moved to the Bay Area 12 years ago. Lisa is from San Francisco, the daughter of a Tagalog mother and an American father of Italian/French descent. She went to Santa Clara University for her undergraduate studies and UC Berkeley for her graduate school to get her degree in Social Work.
When Jenni came out to her parents in 2006, their reaction was that living an openly gay life was a Western concept, and they felt this would not have happened if they had not left Taiwan. Although Lisa’s family was more accepting of their relationship, Jenni’s parents still had to acknowledge them as a couple during their earlier years together. Though lately, Jenni has come to recognize that her parents have taken significant steps towards tolerance and acceptance.
One weekly date night, the couple decided to get their domestic paperwork done for legal protection. Expecting a complicated process, Lisa was surprised to find out she only needed to download a single page document … no witnesses or ceremony necessary, just a space for a notary to confirm each person’s identity. Lisa stated, “In California, we’re quite lucky that this one-page document gives us nearly all the legal rights of a marriage.”
So they proceeded to the venue for this important event: a UPS office in the Westlake Shopping Center, where a UPS desk clerk in his 20s named Jesus Gamez notarized their paperwork. “We couldn’t help but wonder what Jenni’s religious mother would say if she knew that Jesus was blessing our union,” mused Lisa in her blog.
“This whole unromantic process just reinforced to me how much we need marriage equality. While we have the same state rights as married partners now, the process feels as pedestrian as completing a passport application. There are no vows, no witnesses and no kiss!
“Domestic partnership is an important step, but it really doesn’t have the sanctity of marriage. This sanctity is the very value our opponents block us from having. To compensate, we create our own sacred spaces and have unofficial weddings and gatherings with friends,” she wrote. “This is all fine and good, but from the point of view of the U.S. government and even more importantly from the point of view of U.S. society, our union is still not equal to an opposite-sex union. At the end of the day, I really just can’t wait until I can drop the word partner and start to call Jenni my wife.”
The Making of OUT & AROUND
Their own struggles and search for hope and happiness led them to a decision to go on a world tour to find “Supergays” – a term the couple use for “LGBT people who were doing something extraordinary in the world” – and inspiring stories that they wanted to record from their travels. Both quit their jobs to embark on their one-year journey around the world, choosing countries where the LGBT movement is just starting to take shape. “Our goal is to find the brave souls who are leading the charge for gay rights and tell their stories.” They started OUT & AROUND as a video web series and blog to tell the stories of people around the world who are leading the movement for LGBT equality.
They searched the Internet, got in touch with their contacts around the globe and searched for people who are leading the international movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. They decided this was going to be a documentary – and without any background in reporting or filmmaking, they purchased a camcorder and books and a DVD on making documentaries. The fun began.
They considered places where they spoke the language in order to have meaningful exchanges with people. With Lisa fluent in Spanish and Jenni fluent in Chinese, they felt they covered a pretty large ground. They traveled almost exclusively in developing countries and countries where they have existing personal connections. And they also planned visits to places where they have family, such as Australia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
They first came up with a list of 15 countries across Africa, Asia, the Pacific Rim and South America – from India, recently home to the world’s first openly gay prince, to Argentina, the first country in Latin America to grant marriage equality. They also visited the Philippines, where they spent time with Lisa’s Filipino relatives, including her mother’s cousin, the singer Pilita Corrales, who was instrumental in helping them find “Supergays” to interview for the film. They also went to Taiwan, where a gay pride parade takes place just blocks from the home of Jenni’s grandparents.
Some of their travels entailed many uncomfortable moments, like in Tanzania, where homosexuality is considered illegal and carried a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. This was the only place on their list where their contacts were not able to participate in the interview. The film opens with a scene from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, where Lisa plants a small rainbow flag as she addressed the Tanzanians, “For most LGBT people, they don’t have the freedom that we do in San Francisco, and we brought this and want to put it up here as a way of saying that we’re with you, that we know you’re here and we want you to know that we love you and you’re our LGBT family.”
Highlights also include Jenni and Lisa’s interview with Prince Manvendra, India’s first openly gay prince who came out on Oprah; a look at Michael Kimindu, the reverend with Other Sheep Afrika-Kenya, battling religious based homophobia in East Africa; and a chat with Bhumika Shrestha, a transgender activist in Nepal, who gives insights into Nepal’s supreme court decision allowing for transgender identity cards and gay marriage.
What is fundamental in establishing gay rights, as the film shows, is succinctly put by David Kuria, Kenya’s first openly gay candidate for public office. During an interview with Lisa, he said “The only way to create a lasting impact is to put in appropriate governance structures.”
And, Lisa quotes, “The momentum from other countries promotes a ripple effect empowering other countries to want to follow equality environments. There are more models, examples of people living out. The Voices of LGBT are getting stronger. In the end, Love will win out.”
OUT & AROUND, the Documentary
Upon returning home, Jenni and Lisa got married under California’s newly passed marriage equality law, and their wedding ceremony on June 8, 2013 in Guerneville was also added to the documentary footage.
The couple recorded a total of 120 hours of footage with 55 interviews, and upon their return, they contacted producer and director Lauren Fash and Susan Graham to put the finishing touches and edit the film, which was condensed into 1 hour and 20 minutes. The result was definitely a mix of entertaining, educational, engaging, enlightening and empowering scenes. OUT & AROUND resulted in a documentary about their personal story reflected in the global issues they encountered on this incredible journey.
What the couple was not expecting was the interest of celebrities in becoming part of the documentary. The film is set to a soundtrack featuring Macklemore & Mary Lambert; Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Tegan & Sara; Cayucas; and Moby, with Abbie Cornish lending her voice as narrator. The support of these collaborators represents the magnetism encapsulated in the story of Jenni and Lisa’s inspiring journey.
The couple also received honors for their work, including TOP 25 Most Significant Queer Women by Velvet Park Magazine. Jenni was named a “Hero of the 500s” by Fortune Magazine. They also had the honor of speaking on LGBT issues at the 2015 TED Women’s Conference.
They partnered with the It Gets Better Project to share in a joint mission of bringing messages of hope to LGBT youth around the world. The Project now has a large collection of international videos and programs to benefit LGBT youth worldwide, including Out & Around, which is being introduced in the school system. The film has also been broadcast on Logo TV in August 2015 and shown in different film festivals in London, Beijing, Shanghai, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Luis Obispo, as well as in community events in the West Coast. In May, they recently got connected to multiple on demand platforms such as Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and the film can be downloaded worldwide.
The Joy of Love
During my recent visit with them, Lisa and Jenni proudly showed me their latest joy and treasure: their baby daughter, Charlie (named after Lisa’s grandfather), who was born on March 8, 2016. Charlie was conceived via in vitro fertilization and the pregnancy was carried out by Jenni. The proud parents also feel that their baby certainly helped Jenni’s parents finally come to terms in understanding the love and commitment that Jenni and Lisa have for each other.
In the end, Love wins.
The TED Talk Video: http://www.outandaround.com/#screenings
Manzel Delacruz is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.
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