By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Louise Chernin, CEO of the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), arrived in Seattle from Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1971 — “nearly a native,” as she joked.
“Seattle was a ‘sleepy town,’” she remembered, at the “tail end of the ‘Boeing Bust,’ when billboards stated, “Will the last person leaving Seattle, turn out the lights.’ Of course there were advantages, such as the cost of living, which was very low compared to New York, and I was able to buy a home for $33,000.”
Forty-six years later, Chernin’s GSBA, the largest Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Chamber of Commerce in North America, masterminds a groundbreaking goodwill project, taking participants much further than Brooklyn. The first-ever LGBT Cultural and Trade Mission to Taiwan and Hong Kong, scheduled for Oct. 26 through Nov. 4, includes stops at Hong Kong and three Taiwanese cities, including Kaohsiung, Seattle’s Sister City; Taichung, Tacoma’s Sister City; and Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.
At each city, participants will greet and socialize with LGBT leaders in that specific area. A key highlight of the trip, the Gay Pride Taipei parade, takes place in Taipei on Oct. 28 — Asia’s largest Pride parade, and the first Taipei Pride parade since Taipei’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage last May.
The original idea for the mission, said Chernin, was proposed by Felicity Wang, president of the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Her proposal came soon after the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
“As soon as the idea was mentioned, both of us knew immediately, it was the right thing to do.”
“Seeing this trip as a historic opportunity, not just as the first of its kind… GSBA agreed immediately,” said Chernin. “The response from our community was overwhelmingly positive, and encouraging that we should go. After sharing our experiences here in Seattle with LGBT activists from over 25 countries over the last few years, we are thrilled to visit some of them in return.”
According to Matt Landers, GSBA’s Public Policy and Communications manager, the mission group will meet with LGBT community leaders throughout the trip, both informally as part of Taiwan Pride, and formally in the case of meetings with the Taichung City Government and the Bureau of Social Affairs.
As Landers explained, “Several Taiwanese NGOs [non-governmental organizations], like the Chinese LALA Alliance (a cross-strait alliance of LGBT organizations from the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) and Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, have visited our offices. We were excited to reach out to them in return this year and to discuss seeing their work in person as they did here in Seattle.
“Additionally, Dorian Tsai of [Taiwan’s] Rawher Enterprise Ltd. Co., is an LGBT business owner who we met at a conference organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) earlier this year. Dorian has been a great connection to talk about how LGBT business owners in Taiwan can help support their community.
Landers further explained that GSBA had never sent a group abroad before. The biggest challenges involved explaining exactly what mission members would be doing overseas, as well as getting participants signed up in a relatively short period of time.
Wang and Jessica Lu, both of APA Tours, with their experience organizing economic trade missions, helped design a strong starting itinerary.
”We worked very closely with them and local partners in Taiwan,” Landers elaborated, “to add on additional content relevant to the LGBT community at large, and to tour participants specifically. GSBA has met Taiwanese LGBT leaders in Seattle previously through programs by OutRight Action International and the World Affairs Council. We’re excited to be able to reach out to them and discuss meeting them and their colleagues in Taiwan.”
When asked about plans for future trade missions, Landers said that with more time to plan around members’ work schedules and budgets, they expect to have an even larger delegation next time.
“Given the excitement around this event, we are certain that we will be organizing another trip! We may not be able to do one every year, but we are proud of the connections that Felicity and Jessica have built for us, and we are excited to continue to nurture our friendships with the Taiwanese LGBT and business communities.”
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.