While gay rights activists seem to be struggling in mainland China, Taiwan's homosexual scene is experiencing a renaissance. People from all over Asia took to the streets of Taipei to rally for gay rights on the weekend.
Bisexual, lesbian, gay and heteros marched on the streets of Taipei at a rally themed "out and vote"
Around 30,000 activists and supporters marched in what the Taiwanese media are calling the largest gay pride parade ever to have taken place in Asia on Saturday.
It was Taipei’s eighth annual gay pride event and came just weeks before big elections. Hoping to raise political awareness, the organizers of this year’s parade themed it "out and vote".
Activists carried fans encouraging people to vote in the upcoming elections
An ardent supporter of the parade, Hank Xu said he was pleased to see support for the parade growing and pointed out that it had not always been easy to speak out as a homosexual in Taiwan.
He said there had been many changes since the first march in 2002, in which only 500-600 people participated.
"It has become more normal in the past two to three years and people are less afraid. Before people used to wear masks but hardly anyone does now. Most gay people were afraid to participate because they were afraid of being ostracized."
Still not easy to be gay in Taiwan
Although, there has been some improvement, there is still some way to go, Hank Xu said: "Many young people are still afraid of telling their friends or family that they are gay. And at work it is even worse."
Hank Xu and Hao Xiao say it's not that easy to be gay in Taiwan but the situation is improving
Hao Xiao is the head of the Gay Club at National Taiwan University, a group that tries to offer gay students a safe haven from the psychological pressures of mainstream heterosexual society.
"Frankly speaking, I have to say it is not very easy to be gay in Taiwan as a student. We cannot hold hands with our lovers on campus because the public generally views this as a very strange action, so we face a lot of pressure. Sometimes there are teachers who say gay people are weird or disgusting in class. I firmly believe this affects the students' attitude towards gay people because teachers have a large influence."
Judicial equality and social acceptance are different matters
Josephine Ho, an expert on gender studies at Taiwan's National Central University who is often referred to as the godmother of the island’s gay and lesbian movement, says the discrimination people face today has to do with traditional family values, linked to marriage and having children.
Ho points out that judicial equality and social acceptance might not go hand-in-hand.
"There's a serious discussion within the gay and lesbian movement concerning whether marriage should be featured as an important issue because with that issue mainly you’re asking for state condolence, state sanction of your personal relationships. It does not change social standing that much except you’re just buying into the fidelity rule of a heterosexual marriage."
Commercialization could overshadow political issues
Aside from banners and slogans, no gay pride parade would be complete without loud music, flashy costumes and chains and leather. Despite the rainy autumn weather, some were only dressed in underwear. While many see this as a vital element of self-expression, Josephine Ho fears the movement’s political demands could be overshadowed.
"The big issue concerning pride marches in Taipei now is commercialization. Over the past few years, the pubs, drinking, dancing places and saunas have had an increasingly large presentation in the pride march. The sight of bodies and the expression of sexual desire of course are desirable but at the same time, the movement itself would hope that issues would still top pleasure."
Some wore Halloween costumes at Taipei's eighth gay pride event
What many of Taiwan's gays want is acceptance and respect from their families and communities, but because social stigma is difficult to eradicate, many of them know that "every kind of change will have to be fought for," to use Josephine Ho's words.
Author: Sarah Berning
Editor: Anne Thomas