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How ‘rainbow factors’ are influencing Taiwan local elections

How ‘rainbow factors’ are influencing Taiwan local elections

Queer politics was never really visible in Taiwan until September last year when the Marriage Equality Bill was incorporated into parliament’s agenda. This year, the political atmosphere has been even more intensified and heightened by the LGBTI rights movement.

People of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are eagerly calling for an LGBTI-friendly government, although not everyone, including LGBTI rights advocates and activists, regards this as a queering of politics.

A better word is probably ‘rainbowing.’ Many LGBTI Taiwanese do not seek to be distinct in identity but respected in equality, which is quite different from the western strategy of promoting LGBTI rights. Taiwan’s ‘rainbow coalition’ encompasses all the civil rights movements, not only sexual minorities but also persons with disabilities, migrants, labours, sex workers and aboriginals.

Besides having the marriage equality initiative and the biggest Pride in Asia, the rainbow coalition is also looking to replace certain legislators who have been identified as homophobic, transphobic or ignorant of minority rights.

Just at the right moment (29 November), Taiwan held its largest-scale local elections, commonly known as the nine-in-one election. This includes municipal mayors and councilors, chiefs and councilors of indigenous districts in municipalities, county magistrates and city mayors, county and city councilors, township chiefs and councilors, and chiefs of villages and boroughs in six municipalities and 16 counties. Rainbow power in politics has reached its peak.

Not only are more and more candidates stepping out of the closet, but ‘rainbow factors’ are now seriously taken into account by LGBTI voters. For example, gVote is a temporary website for people to evaluate the LGBTI-friendliness of every candidate and aims to promote LGBTI influence and opportunity in Taiwanese politics. Along with a super detailed and comprehensive chart synthesized by cyber citizens, we can see a developing number of LGBTI-friendly candidates. For example, there are at least 90 LGBTI-friendly councilor candidates across six municipalities.

In Taiwan, citizens and activists prefer the word ‘rainbow’ to ‘queer.’ For instance, the Occupy the City with Rainbows initiative and the ‘rainbow siege’ manifested diversity rather than individuality. This is interesting and the reasons are compounded by cultural and societal backgrounds.

Generally speaking, neither liberation or inclusion is right or wrong. The main idea is still all about fighting for freedoms and equality whichever path rights movements take.

Certainly, politics should never be oversimplified, especially when it comes to elections, competition among parties and ideologies. Voting is to a large extent a sense of people’s self-determination on political, economic and societal issues in the context of a democratic society.

Traditionally, LGBTI groups have been dedicated to community building, counselling and communication and they have been very successful at this. However, observing this year’s nine-in-one elections, we can see LGBTI Taiwanese are no longer satisfied simply with social understanding, support and tolerance in a relatively passive way, but are also attempting to actively change society themselves.

For LGBTIs and other minorities, politics is now not just voting but a channel for voicing out, making politicians choose sides, reflecting values in political forums and, most importantly, demonstrating ‘rainbow factors’ as part of rational choice in a democratic system. In this new age, running political campaigns in Taiwan is much harder and more unpredictable than ever because Taiwanese people – especially the youngsters – are not indifferent and afraid to be politicized anymore.

We can first congratulate those who are LGBTI-friendlier and just won the elections: Ko Wen-je (Taipei), Cheng Wen-tsan (Taoyuan), Lin Chia-lung (Taichung), Kiku Chen (Kaohsiung), as well as Wei Ming-ku (Changhua), Lee Chin-yung (Yunlin), Chang Hwa-kuan (Chiayi), and Pan Meng-an (Pingtung).

Although further analysis is needed in order to testify the influence of rainbow factors, it can still be seen as a small victory for the rainbow coalition as politicians realize that today’s voters do take seriously how friendly, hostile or ignorant they are.

Po-han Lee is a PhD student in Law at the University of Sussex.