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4 Jun 2010

Fridae's LGBT People to Watch 2010: Georgia Kuo

The series presents 10 movers and shakers in Asia who are set to bring about positive change in their local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

In this final installment of Fridae's LGBT People to Watch 2010 series, we put the spotlight on Georgia Kuo, founder and head of "LGBT In and Out Parents Association", the only support group for parents of LGBT individuals in Taiwan; and Xiaogang Wei, founder, director and host of Queer Comrades, China’s only independent LGBT webcast.

Georgia Kuo

Affectionately known by many as Kuo Mama (meaning mother in Chinese / 郭媽媽), Georgia Kuo first became involved with LGBT advocacy group Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association (TTHA) after attending for the first time a meeting for parents of LGBT children in 2004. That was four years after her daughter – then 15 – came out to her. Kuo then started working with TTHA volunteers and often provided a parent’s point of view in relevant matters.

Georgia Kuo, founder and head of "LGBT In and Out Parents Association" and executive board member of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association (TTHA)

By the following year, she had persuaded the other parents whom she had met in previous meetings to form a support group; calling themselves "Parents in Closet" – a literal translation of the group’s name in Chinese 櫃父母 (gui fu mu). The group evolved to become "LGBT In and Out Parents Association" (櫃父母同心協會), the first organisation of its kind in Taiwan.

Kuo, who is in her early 50s, heads the association which is a subgroup of TTHA of which she is an executive board member. [TTHA was first established in 1998 as a coalition of four organisations: Gay Counselors Association, Queer & Class, LGBT Civil Rights Alliance and Gay Teachers’ Alliance; and in 2000 became the first LGBT organisation to be registered with the Ministry of Interior.]

She says her main motivation of being involved is to encourage LGBT individuals to come out to their family and help them find the support they need. “For me, it’s true that to fight for LGBT rights is important but unlike legalisation, you cannot fix your family relationship in one day. The Taiwan government can sometimes pass very nice laws in a short time, then suddenly LGBT individuals have legal protection, but this is not how it works in a familial relationship.”

The group now sees the involvement of about 15 parents who meet every two months; and in the six years they have been operating, they have made contact with more than 450 parents.

In addition to providing personal counselling to LGBT individuals and parents of LGBT children, Kuo alongside other parents from her group go into schools to educate teachers and parents about LGBT issues. 

æ: Why do you do this work?

The first time I joined the support group; I thought I would see hundreds of parents, but there were only five! I was very shocked. I had imagined it to be a relaxed atmosphere but I found out that the other parents were still in the very first stage of acceptance, and I was also surprised that the volunteers from TTHA were also in “shock” when facing these parents. While they were professional counselors, they were also “LGBT children;” and there’s a contradiction between the two roles. The parents won’t see them as professionals but as “children.” It’s impossible to start communicating in this situation. I saw a need for someone to play the mediation role and realised that I could do it.

In the beginning, I was only intending to counsel parents but later I found that LGBT children need help too and I can only help these parents after their child comes out. I now spend a lot of time talking to TTHA volunteers and other LGBT individuals. Coming out is really important and if you don’t come out, or if your coming out was done hastily, then you won’t be able to help your parents understand, accept and improve your relationship with them.

For some parents who already know that their child is gay may lack resources, and feel isolated especially if they don’t know other LGBT individuals or don’t know other parents they can talk to. Similarly parents who cannot accept their children may also feel isolated or get the support they need.

As for those who have accepted their children, the only LGBT person/s they know would likely be their own child and possibly her/his partner.

Because of negative and stereotypical portrayals of LGBT people in the media, some parents may be misled into believing that LGBT people are a certain way.

Coming out is the first step, then you have to give your parents the right resources to help each other gain more understanding. There are three tools for parents:

1. Right Information: Without the right information, parents won’t be able to understand their LGBT children.

2. To know other LGBT people: So parents can see different “types” of LGBTs and this is good to eliminate the stereotypes they have learnt from the media. And to communicate with other LGBTs will be helpful for parents to understand their children more.

3. To meet other parents of LGBTs: It’s good to know that they are not alone, there are some people like you and learning from other’s experiences is also important.

æ: How did you first get involved in this type of work?

The first time was the first support group held on March 27, 2004. I read the information in the newspaper. I didn’t expect that I will get involved in this work, but after the first meeting, I found that I might be able to contribute in some ways.

æ: How do you think you can make positive change happen in 2010?

We are planning a training program for parents in our association with help from TTHA. First, the counseling skills: such as how to listen, how to comfort and how to deal with conflict. Then there will be more parents can do to help other parents. Second, there are more and more invitations from schools and from the media, but most parents say they don’t know how to talk to audiences and they don’t have experience doing media interviews. The goal is to train these parents to be able to do the above which will go a long way in educating society. Hotline has developed a system in gender education so we can learn from that. From my experience with the media, I found that in many cases, reporters will only report on what they want to hear, thus why we have to be very careful and speak very precisely. To invite gay-friendly journalists is also another way.

And we also hope to be more informed and/or involved in broader LGBT issues to gain more knowledge so we as parents won’t miss any chance to speak out for our children and show our support for LGBT community.

æ: What is your message to LGBT readers?

I really hope that every LGBT individual considers coming out to his/her family. It is very important to come out to your family, especially to your parents. There will be a gap between you and your parents if your sexuality is a secret or an unmentionable issue. Children often think that it is very difficult to come out, but from my experience and observations all these years, parents are not unchangeable. We’ve witnessed over 400 parents who have become accepting or are in the process of.

It’s the same for the parents; children didn’t “choose” to be LGBT. It’s similarly hard for them in this journey, if we can have more understanding and are willing to open our minds, we will see that we are blinded by societal prejudices.

To have a truly wonderful life, you must have your parents’ support and blessing. As for parents of LGBTs, you must remember that you are so important and not replaceable in your children’s lives.

Get in touch with Georgia through Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association. For parents of LGBT, there is a support group meeting every two months. For LGBT individuals, TTHA operates two hotline services for gays and lesbians, and transgenders. Click here for more details. 

With contributions from Laurindo Garcia, Patty Tumang and Sylvia Tan. Fridae thanks Ashley Wu of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association for translating the interview.


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