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LGBTI life in Taiwan tells us progress is not always a straight line

LGBTI life in Taiwan tells us progress is not always a straight line

Last month I had the chance to sneak out and catch a film after putting my kids (two-and-a-half-year-old twin boys) to bed.

Since I became a parent, I treasure those rare time slots when I can indulge in cinematic escapes. But, this time, I was already ecstatic with what I witnessed in the movie theatre before I even sat down to watch the movie.

As I was looking at the showtimes, my jaw dropped as I saw three LGBT-themed movies openly soliciting attention and purchases from cinema-goers.

In my 15 years of living in Asia, I have not experienced this. What’s more, these LGBT films were geographically as well as thematically diverse: Bohemian Rhapsody from the US about Freddy Mercury, My Dear Ex from Taiwan, about a wife and her struggle with her deceased husband’s male lover, and Tracey from Hong Kong, about a middle-aged transgender woman.

Even more impressively, these movies have all done well at the box office in multiple territories: More than US$600 million globally for Bohemian Rhapsody, more than US$600,000 for Tracey in Hong Kong alone, and over US$two million for My Dear Ex for Taiwan.

Jay Lin and his family (Photo: Facebook)
Jay Lin and his family (Photo: Facebook)

Fifty years after Stonewall

Fifty years after Stonewall in New York City, USA, this is the scene in Taipei, Taiwan.
When I co-founded the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF) five years ago, I wanted to introduce more LGBT movies to Taiwan.

I wanted to use storytelling to achieve three objectives: Empower the LGBT community, spread awareness to the general population, and persuade the media industry to invest, produce and distribute more LGBT content.

Five years later, the Festival is still going strong. And, Taiwan is enjoying a cultural renaissance with more content than ever featuring LGBT characters and storylines making it to TV, cinemas, mobile phones, and computers all across Taiwan.

And thankfully, with digital streaming, this content is traveling regionally, if not globally. In tandem, many actors, Youtubers, and celebrities from various industries have openly and passionately supported gay rights.

Some have simply taken the courage to come out and be openly gay. It is beautiful to witness how much progress we have made in just five years.

Jay Lin attends Taipei LGBT pride parade, the largest in the region (Photo: Facebook)
Jay Lin attends Taipei LGBT pride parade, the largest in the region (Photo: Facebook)

Taiwan’s wait for marriage equality

And then there is the strive for marriage equality in Taiwan… Many people across the world cheered with us in Taiwan on May 24, 2017. Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that gays must be allowed to get married or at least be afforded equal rights and protection as heterosexual couples.

However, many people across the world sighed in dismay along with us in Taiwan when on November 24, 2018 a majority of the voters supported referenda limiting the rights of gay couples to marry. It is now up to the Legislature to pass a bill that takes into account these two opposing realities.

If the Legislature cannot agree and no bill is passed before May 24, 2019, same-sex couples will be able to walk into any city hall and get their marriage certificates the next day.

We now need to see what happens between now and May 24, 2019 and to use this time to persuade the legislators and voters who voted against equality to be on the right side of history.

No one is wise nor clairvoyant enough to predict what will happen in these next few months.

We are fully aware that the quest for marriage equality in the US, Australia, and many other countries didn’t come without a protracted fight. But, eventually, these countries all got there.

Jay Lin with legendary Taiwan LGBTI rights activist, Chi Jia-Wei (Photo: Facebook)
Jay Lin with legendary Taiwan LGBTI rights activist, Chi Jia-Wei (Photo: Facebook)

One step forward two steps back

Progress is not always a linear line: Sometimes we go one step forward and then two steps back. And then, hopefully, we find the opportunity to take two steps forward again. It is our duty to make sure that when we fall back, we make sure to get back up and move forward.

For those of us living in Taiwan, we are fortunate to be living in a democratic society where we are capable of using our voice/vote/action to make an impact on the society we want to live in.

As we have witnessed first hand how fake news can exploit vulnerabilities in democratic processes and elections worldwide—Taiwan is no exception—we must be vigilant in coming up with strategies, policies, and technologies to counter these nefarious effects.

June 29, 2019 will be the 50th year anniversary of Stonewall. When June 29 comes around, I hope the celebrations worldwide will include Taiwan as the first country in Asia to pass marriage equality.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would love to escape into the world of LGBT cinema, but I would love even more to attend actual gay weddings in hotels, restaurants, and parks all over the country.

Many struggles still exist globally for the LGBT community, and certainly, they extend beyond just marriage. But we have come a long way in 50 years and that’s worth taking a moment to celebrate.

Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community. They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.