Taiwan Pride celebrations show growing support for LGBTQ rights

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Ho Yu-Jung, a candidate for district councilor in the upcoming local elections, stood at a busy intersection and addressed rush hour commuters through a megaphone. He also displayed a campaign flag and a rainbow scarf.

“I am a single mother and a lesbian,” Ho, 45, announced to drivers and pedestrians alike. With everyone who stopped to chat, she asked for her votes and encouraged them to attend the Taiwan Pride parade in the city in several days.

That casual mix of sexual identity, liberal values, and local politics would have been unusual until recently. But in the three years since Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage, the island has quickly become a regional leader in LGBTQ rights. Inclusion of once-marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities has taken root in Taiwanese society, deepening the sense of separation from the autonomous island of China, where the ruling Communist Party strictly limits LGBTQ information and events

Such progress in Taiwan’s LGBTQ movement motivated Ho to run for public office, in part to help people like her feel seen. The former radio host said she is no longer afraid to talk about her own identity while campaigning, because “Taiwan’s democratization made the existence of diverse groups a natural thing.”

The 20th annual Taiwan Pride parade in late October drew 120,000 people to downtown Taipei, just weeks after the last coronavirus Border restrictions have been lifted and the city has been restored to its position as the largest Pride destination in East Asia. Revelers dressed in rainbow-colored suits filled the square in front of City Hall and marched alongside floats with corporate sponsors including Nike and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

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The party atmosphere, though drenched in rain, persisted late into the night when many attendees flocked to the gay bars. At one club, a unique Taiwanese scene unfolded when a drag queen danced to a remix of Für Elise, Beethoven’s composition performed by garbage trucks in Taipei to remind residents to take their trash out of it.

The movement here has developed rapidly in the past decade, said Hsu Chih-Yun, former president of LGBTQ rights group Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association. In 2004, when Hsu first attended a Pride parade, most people wore masks to hide her identity because few wanted to go out. “That was a really different vibe,” he said.

Today, almost two-thirds of the population supports same-sex marriage. A survey by the nonprofit Taiwan Equality Campaign found that 60 percent of parents say they would accept their children being gay, up from 42 percent last year.

Hsu, who in 2015 became the first psychiatrist in Taiwan to counsel LGBTQ people and their families at a public hospital, said he was surprised by changing attitudes toward sexual minorities.

In the early sessions, “when the parents heard the word ‘gay,’ they went crazy,” he said. Far fewer now react negatively or ask how to change their children’s sexual orientation, she said.

Taiwanese politicians often address issues of sexuality and gender identity when campaigning for office or speaking in public. Two Taipei mayoral candidates in this month’s municipal elections attended the latest Pride parade. The Taiwan Equality Campaign, which counts gay-friendly candidates, had more than 200 candidates out of 1,700 who publicly expressed their support for LGBTQ rights.

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Activists and scholars have linked the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community to the island’s vibrant civil society and the momentum of wave after wave of political and social movements dating back to the late 1980s and the end of four decades of martial law. .

In 2014, the success of a student-led “sunflower movement” in blocking ratification of a trade deal with China reinforced many young people’s belief that activism can bring real change, said Adam Chen-Dedman, a doctoral candidate. in cultural studies at the University of Melbourne who has studied the LGBTQ culture of Taiwan. That optimism then spurred advocacy for same-sex marriage, he said.

The protection of the rights of sexual minorities has been paralleled by the rise of a distinct Taiwanese identity, which has solidified in response to China’s aggressive stance towards the island, which it claims as its own territory. A poll in June National Chengchi University found that 63 percent of respondents identified as only Taiwanese, rather than also Chinese, up 10 percentage points from a decade ago. The biggest jump in that period came in 2019 during the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

In China, national identity is dominated by a state-shaped vision of ethnic Han Chinese and traditional cultural values. In Taiwan, people have pushed for a more inclusive and broad idea of ​​what it means to be Taiwanese, including support for aboriginal rights, Chen-Dedman said.

The gap between Chinese and Taiwanese identities has widened as the Chinese Communist Party censors LGBTQ content, shuts down university clubs for sexual minorities and promotes traditional gender roles. Shanghai Pride, the largest and longest-running LGBTQ festival in China outside of Hong Kong, suspended operations in August 2020.

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“Chinese nationalism is developing in a very patriarchal and masculine way,” said Wen Liu, a research assistant professor at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. “People from Chinese feminist and LGBTQ organizations that we used to keep in touch with either fled abroad or went silent.”

That’s why Taiwan’s LGBTQ community joined the protests against security clampdowns in Hong Kong and has spoken out against authoritarianism in China. There is a “clear consensus that if Taiwan wants to make any progress on LGBTQ rights, we must first protect our democratic way of life,” she said.

Taiwanese activists continue to push for more freedoms. Same-sex couples are still prohibited from adopting children they are not related to and cannot marry if one party is from a country that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

A heated debate has erupted over whether transgender people should be able to change the gender on their ID cards without proof of gender affirmation surgery. A 2021 lawsuit that allowed a trans woman to do so was a significant step forward.

“Compared to the marriage equality movement, discussions about trans rights have only just begun,” said Alice, a trans woman and former software developer who joined the trans march that took place the night before the parade. of Pride. However, with more Taiwanese coming out as transgender in recent years, she said, “it feels good that more people are living the way they want.”