LGBTI global news 24-7

Why is Taiwan the best place to be gay in Asia?

There’s a strong argument that Taiwan has the best record for gay rights in Asia, Gay Star News asks seven advocates why
Tens of thousands march during Taiwan Pride 2012
Barney Cheng

A few weeks ago over 50,000 people marched for LGBT rights in Taipei - massively dwarfing any other Pride marches in Asia.

And Taiwan will probably be the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage, as the leader of the opposition supports it, a petition calling for it is attracting thousands of signatures and one gay rights activist believes he will successfully sue the City of Taipei to recognize his own same-sex marriage.

During a recent visit to Taipei, Gay Star News asked seven people involved in LGBT rights one question: why is Taiwan the best place to be gay in Asia. These are their answers.

Nelson Chen (also known as Chen Ching-Hseuh) who is suing the City of Taipei to recognize his marriage

‘Taiwanese people believe in karma and reincarnation so if a man loves a man they think it’s because he was his wife in a past life. So you can explain same-sex love that way.

‘Taiwanese culture is based on Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Buddhists are very tolerant of almost everything because they think there’s a reason for it, so they have to respect it.

‘Another explanation is that Taiwan is an island and throughout its history, with occupations from the Dutch, the Spanish, mainland China and Japan, Taiwanese have quickly adapted to different cultures. Also a lot of young Taiwanese go to study abroad and we get a lot of information from other countries because the internet is not censored like it is in China.’

Victoria Hsu (also know as Hsu Hsiu-wen), president of Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR)

‘Is Taiwan the most gay-friendly place in Asia? Maybe yes, maybe no, I don’t know. Actually I’m not sure because maybe the discrimination against LGBT works in a more delicate way than other places.

'We don’t criminalize the homosexual conduct in our criminal code, we don’t have such terrible laws, but in the employment area and some other areas there’s still a lot of discrimination against LGBT people.

‘But I will say that Taiwan society is by definition a diverse society, because people come from different origins: some are from mainland China, some are aboriginal people. We have more than ten tribes of aboriginal people in Taiwan and now we have a lot of immigrants by marriage or by work.

‘This is already a diverse society and in Taiwan there has been a long struggle to fight for democracy. So I think that’s one of the reasons we are a little bit more gay-friendly than some other Asian countries.’

Barney Cheng Taiwanese-American filmmaker

‘Generally people in Taiwan are very open-minded, and in many ways the Taiwan government is even more liberal than the people. The government has been consistently supportive of LGBT rights. I wouldn't be surprised if same-sex marriage was legalized soon.

‘As a Taiwanese-American filmmaker, I've seen LGBT-themed films coming out of Taiwan every year, and they have always been financially supported by the government.

‘My film The Baby Banquet is about a non-traditional family with leading gay characters. The Taiwan government just awarded us a prestigious production subsidy award. We were thrilled!

‘Taiwan is the only country in Asia that's progressive enough to recognize LGBT rights and support LGBT cinematic, artistic expression. I don't know any other country in Asia that financially and consistently supports LGBT-themed films like Taiwan.’

Georgia Kou, co-ordinator of Loving Parents of LGBT Taiwan

‘It’s not only LGBT people, we accept everything. That’s my true feeling. Different ways and different people, we’re really open-minded.

‘So LGBT kids shouldn’t be afraid to come out. Your own happiness is the most important thing. So just ignore that very small group of people who don’t understand, most people accept it. I think people in Taiwan are really accepting of different groups. It’s a really blessed place.’

Josephine Ho, co-ordinator of the Center for the Study of Sexualities, National Central University

‘Because of the political instability caused by polarized party politics as well as by Taiwan's yet-to-be-decided nation-state status. Both have contributed to the emergence of a specific form of populism that could be persuaded to allow minor shifts in the sexual hierarchy, such as the tolerance of mainstream gays, provided it enhances national image. (Obama's recent triumph will further invigorate the call for gay marriages in Taiwan.)  As to prostitution, promiscuity, affairs and the like on the lower strata of the sexual hierarchy, hostility is extremely strong.’

Kengyu Cho, high school counsellor and chair of Taiwan Gender Equity Education Association

‘I’m really proud of being from Taiwan where there is gay-friendly education. As a whole, people have begun to recognize gay rights as part of human rights. On the other hand, there is still homophobic bullying in Taiwan, even though we have advocated and passed the Gender Equity Education Act.

‘So I think the best answer is, it depends on the development of bottom-up democratic social actions (LGBT movements and education issues) and reflections on practices (talk back policy and even fight back unfriendly schooling).

‘Thanks to the many pioneers!’  

Comment on a news story