Asian Gays and Lesbians Celebrate 10 Years of Online "Utopia"

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Pioneering online community looks back on ten years of the Internet revolution that liberated millions of Asia's gays and lesbians.

Websites seem to have a shorter shelf life than a ripe banana, but one pioneering Internet portal is celebrating a decade of service providing a free, safe and popular online community for millions of homosexuals in Asia.

Utopia, Southeast Asia's first gay and lesbian center in Bangkok, launched their http://www.utopia-asia.com website on Dec 13, 1995. Director John Goss recalls, "We thought that our real-world business would sponsor a small homepage, but the website quickly grew to become the most popular non-pornographic gay portal in Asia."

The Internet has proven to be the perfect medium to reduce the isolation in people's lives, connecting like-minded folk around the globe. Gays and lesbians were quick adaptors to the World Wide Web because it offered anonymity along with a cornucopia of highly specialized information.

"Ten years ago, homosexuals in most Asian countries were hidden not only from their families and societies but also from each other," Goss recalls. "Utopia's mission was to provide positive social alternatives to commercial sex venues and help gays and lesbians in the region connect with one another on a friendship basis. The Internet has thrown open Asia’s closets.”

A decade on, the Utopia website has become the information crossroads for gays in 17 Asian countries including overlooked areas in Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Along the way Utopia garnered recognition for its comprehensive resources from mainstream media like Time Magazine, Lonely Planet, and BBC World Service.

Founded by partners from Singapore, Thailand and the United States, Utopia has been at the forefront in offering AIDS/HIV and safer sex information in regional languages, contacts for organizations and venues popular with local and visiting gays, and also special resources focused on women.

Utopia also sponsors an annual Utopia Awards recognizing pioneers in the region who have made a positive impact on the daily lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Recipients have included politicians, activists, performers and filmmakers.

"Many countries in Asia are struggling to shake off negative views of homosexuality introduced during colonial periods and are rediscovering traditional tolerance of gender and sexual difference," Goss observes.

To celebrate its anniversary, Utopia has published the first three volumes in a new series of printed guidebooks assembled from the daily updates and comments that thousands of users post on its website. The Utopia Guide to China is the first book to detail contemporary gay and lesbian life in 45 Chinese cities.

"Thank you for one decade of great links and friendships across the world. Life without friendships is almost like living in a world without the Sun," posts one user, Waipun, on Utopia's homepage.

For more information, please visit any of the following links:

Utopia Homepage:

http://www.utopia-asia.com
More about Utopia:

http://www.utopia-asia.com/utopiais.htm
Asian Gay & Lesbian News Archive:

http://www.utopia-asia.com/unews/archive.htm
The 2004 Utopia Awards:

http://www.utopia-asia.com/spec/awards04.htm
The 2003 Utopia Awards:

http://www.utopia-asia.com/spec/awards03.htm

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John Goss
Utopia
323-472-1231
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