Meet Startup @TW

This gay founder is creating a safe media platform for LGBTQ community in SEA

Joshua Stitt on Unsplash

It is 2020 but the fighting of the LGBTQ community continues the world over. Take any industry, the community is still grossly underrepresented. Tech industry is no different either; their overall condition is yet to progress into a more inclusive nature.

As our recent oped pointed out, the startup ecosystem — even in places such as Silicon Valley — is yet to achieve LGBTQ inclusion. If this can happen in a country where its previous government had shown support for this community, just imagine the plight of the community in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, where religions and traditional beliefs are often mixed and sway one’s judgment.

The domino effect

e27 got a chance to talk to Jay Lin, a gay entrepreneur based in Taiwan whose company Portico Media is focussing on LGBTQ-inclusive contents. Lin was one of the headliners of Startup Impact Summit’s “LGBTI – Why it matters for Impact and Sustainability” session.

Lin grew up in Taiwan before moving to the US when he was 10 years old. He then pursued higher education in a law school in the Bay Area, where he realised that storytelling in a media platform is something that is very akin to his inner passion.

“I started Portico Media in 2004, so it’s been around for 15 to 16 years, with the initial core mission to provide more channels to virtual cable operators. To do so, we partnered with big media companies in the US such as NBC Comcast, Viacom and linear TV channels in Taiwan,” Lin recalled.

In 2009, Taiwan was making a transition from analogue to digital. “So starting around 2014, with the company being more financially stable, I decided that I needed to use the influence that I had at that time in the industry to produce and distribute the content that focussed on LGBT programmes. I think there was a big disconnect between what was available then and what was being produced out here in Southeast Asia or Asia. And also in the West,” he said.

And so being in Taiwan, Lin felt like this was something that he could give back to his community first.

“Given that I’m also a part of the LGBTQ community, I can do something about it — but not to an extent where I could jeopardise the financial security of my company. So I started by doing a film festival — a once-a-year event — by bringing in different movies from around the world that I thought were meaningful, impactful or entertaining,” Lin said.

The festivals took off and was distributed in many major cities in the country. Its success motivated Lin to start the first LGBT movie streaming service in Asia, called GagaOOLala, in 2017.

The challenge with Asia

According to Lin, Southeast Asia is one of the most complicated and diverse territories in the world with 12 countries and different languages, historical backgrounds, cultures, religions and different layers of nuances that the company needs to figure out for themselves.

“We also need to account for how all these countries are at different stages of economic development as well as internet stability. We definitely entered from the get-go into one of the most challenging markets in the world. But given that it was so challenging and complicated, the learning curve was definitely very steep. And sooner or later, we found out that there were certain priority markets that we had to focus on,” Lin shared.

Lin added it is now clearer that markets such as the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are the firm’s key territories. “We don’t need to focus on certain territories where too much advertising or too much buzz can create the opposite effect, attracting too much attention from people who are anti-gay.”

How to become an ally

With ‘Pride Month’, or LGBT History Month, coming to an end in July, we’ve seen many big companies struggling and succeeding in showing what an allyship to LGBTQ community should be like.

“I think we need to start with two layers — one layer is like internal openness to be accepting and embracing people from a different nationality, gender, sexual orientation and religion. I think those kinds of environments are the ones that a startup can thrive in. Because if you are able to create things that are catered to people from different backgrounds and those who have different experiences, they can share with you how to fine-tune or improve like the service or products,” he said.

Lin emphasises that inclusion should be a culture in a tech startup.

“I think in doing so, the employees of that organisation are going to feel vested in the growth of the company and to feel like they are truly a part of the company. And as employees, the sense of belonging will make them work that much harder for the company to succeed,” he said.

“Begin with an open mind and open hearts, because that’s when great ideas, management and leadership can come forth,” he added. “Bear in mind that gay people are or people as well, they’re underrepresented. We have preferences, whereby if you just switch and select the service or part just a little bit, I think you could have a huge impact as a startup.”

Opportunity, not exploitation

As it is still regarded as a highly sensitive matter for some countries in Asia, Southeast Asia in particular, tech startups mostly choose to remain mum on the matter. Next to none of them are participating in any LGBTQ rights campaign, nor are they showing a clear stance from the get-go.

This, to a certain extent, can be seen as a safer move made by most tech startups to avoid ruffling the feathers, especially in countries where there’s no real validation for LGBTQ community’s existence.

On this, Lin shared: “If you genuinely feel like this is something that is underrepresented and underserved and what you offer is ultimately a great service that can enhance the wellness of the LGBT community, I think a lot more products, services and technologies can succeed because right now a lot of people in different parts of the world who are a part of community are still closeted or unwilling to disclose their true identity. But they certainly do have those preferences and they do have those needs.”

Using GagaOOLala as an example, Lin said: “We have been getting subscribers and members from the most intolerant, the most horrific countries in terms of treatment of LGBTQ community. So, it proves that gays are everywhere and also have a need similar to everybody else, which in our case is to consume content that they can thoroughly identify and enjoy.”

A world where having two dads is acceptable

With the media products such as HahaTai, Drama Queen, GagaTai, LalaTai, GagaOOLala, and GOL STUDIOS, it seems like there’s nothing stopping Lin with his mission through Portico Media.

Lin admitted that his fight is not without reason because he is, in fact, is a dad of boys.

“I feel like a sense of responsibility as someone that got them into this world, into a great family, to do all that I can to make sure that I put them in a friendly and loving environment. I hope to embolden them with virtues and strength to fight off all the possible discrimination or the ignorance, as well as potential bullying that they’re going to face in the future. If their daddy can be the great barrier to pave the way for them, maybe with them and also a whole generation of younger LGBTQ, including themselves, can have a better life in the future,” he concluded.

This article was first published on e27, on Aug. 10, 2020.