Interview: J. Daniel Luther

This week we ran a Q&A with J. Daniel Luther, one of the founders of ‘Queer’ Asia, a network and platform formed of queer identifying scholars, academics, activists, artists, and performers. They have organised a series of film screenings to take place online over the next couple of months, so do read on to find out more about the this brilliant platform and the upcoming screenings.

TW: Sexual Assault and Violence

AT: Tell us a little bit about ‘Queer’ Asia, and what you set out to do as an organisation… 

DL: We are a network and platform formed in late 2015 that focuses on the intersection of queer and LGBTQ studies in Asia and its diaspora. We have organised 3 international film festivals, 3 major conferences, 2 art exhibitions, and last year held our first ever summer programme, all without charging our attendees and participants. The main objectives of ‘Queer’ Asia developed over the duration of this work, and include creating an accessible and inclusive space for inter-Asia dialogue on LGBTQ issues and queer theory. Our focus is on nurturing this space where academia sits in conversation with art, advocacy, and activism to enrich each field but also to continue to destabilise and transcend limited national or ethic contexts for collaboration and thought.

AT: You are one of the four founders of ‘Queer’ Asia, how did it all start and how did you go about setting it up?

DL: My Ph.D research focused on gender and sexual norms in South Asia at SOAS, and I had presented a lot of this work at conferences on South Asia and at LGBTQ/ Queer Theory conferences elsewhere. However, by the end of my 2nd year I shared a sense of exclusion at such conferences alongside other people in my cohort working on a similar intersection. Some of us felt that a space was needed where our knowledge and research was not marginalised. It was these exclusions that led to the need to set-up ‘Queer’ Asia as a space where not only was research like ours fruitfully engaged with, but where we were also able to account for Western centricity of knowledge production on LGBTQ issues. This was a sentiment that was shared across the 500 odd participants who attended our first conference and lead to the ‘Queer’ Asia events being an annual thing over the past five years. Many participants at our events at King’s College London, University College London, SOAS, The British Museum, and even the University of Warwick have told me of their happiness and learning having attending our events.

AT: What have been the highlights for you of being a founder and helping to run this platform?

DL: The best part has been meeting and learning from so many fantastic and amazing people – filmmakers, artists, activists, and academics – working on issues of critical importance to LGBTQ people and communities globally. The learning curve has been extremely rewarding as I have learnt so much from contexts and communities that lie outside of my own knowledge, research, and experience. I enjoy the film festivals particularly as we get sent so many amazing films that you would never see through mainstream channels, including some LGBTQ film. The sad bit is that we can never screen all of them!

AT: Have you met any challenges?

DL: I can’t say it has been an easy ride at all. The work we do at ‘Queer’ Asia is all voluntary, but is often five or six jobs rolled into one. Some days I’m a website developer, some days I’m the social media manager, some days I’m a discussant or a chair, and sometimes I’m researching on contexts that are not my area of expertise in order to host a talk or to put out a post that is sensitive to context and in support of a movement. At all times it is also a lot of hard work to ensure we’re putting together events that are accessible, that are meaningful, and support people, including our present COVID-19 Community Support Screenings. Doing all of this for the past five years, alongside finishing up a Ph.D. and holding down part time jobs to pay for that Ph.D. has definitely not been an easy ride for me or for many of the people who’ve stepped up at different times and those who continue to run ‘Queer’ Asia.

My biggest challenge has been trying to carve out time in all to also try and put together work that follows a publishing based career trajectory in contemporary academia that only rewards the work of the individual through its short-sighted Research Excellence Framework. In situations like this I’m thankful to centres like Queer@King’s at AHRI, King’s College London that do so much with limited means to support the work of activists such as through their ‘Activist in Residence’ Programme. It really puts into context the shoddy policies of the government decimating the higher education sector and short-changing the role of the university within society.

AT: You are hosting a series of online film screenings through June and July, which screenings are you most excited about and why?

DL: In our 2017 film festival we screened the film Slay by Cha Roque, a Filipina filmmaker. Cha introduced us to Floyd Scott Tiogango, a trans-androgynous genderqueer Filipino activist who is the main protagonist of Slay and whom we interviewed for our book ‘Queer’ Asia: Decolonising and Reimagining Gender and Sexuality (2019). During this interview for a chapter in our book we learnt of the film Call Her Ganda by the filmmaker PJ Raval on the movement to seek justice for the murder of Jennifer Laude a trans woman. Jennifer Laude was sexually assaulted and murdered by a US Marine, although the courts termed it a homicide. Since then we have been trying to find a way to screen this film in a way that helps us do more to support this movement against continued US racist and military imperialism. In this context I’m happy about being able to screen Call Her Ganda.

But equally all the films that we are screening come from the transnational connects we are part of and through which we continue to understand and resist the scale of injustices, violence, and oppressions of queer people everywhere. So I would recommend that everyone take out an hour or so (they’re all short films) to watch these and support these independent filmmakers working in and through communities continuing to face injustices and the impact of global inequalities.

AT: What’s your future vision for ‘Queer’ Asia?

DL: That’s a hard one, and I think as things go it depends more on the many people who come together to run it than one persons vision. I do hope that we leave a lasting impact on the various fields in which we work.

To find out more visit ‘Queer’ Asia also published a book last year which you can buy here.
Screenshot 2020-06-09 at 11.21.12

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