LGBTI rights supporters in Taiwan have spent the last week clashing with older relatives as the country heads towards a referendum on equal marriage.
Taiwan residents will vote on whether the country’s Civil Code should recognize equal marriage on Saturday (24 November). Dismantling parts of the country’s LGBTI gender equity education is also on the ballot.
At the dinner table and online family chat groups, younger Taiwanese have been defending LGBTI rights in the face of conservative relatives and people they know.
Activists have warned that Saturday’s referendum rests in the hands of the older generation.
This generation may have more conservative views about family values. They are also more susceptible to misinformation from conservative campaigners as they are less digitally literate.
Taiwan is often lauded as the best place to be in gay in Asia. But, a small yet powerful Christian minority stirs up conservative values.
Gay Star News spoke to four young Taiwanese ahead of the big vote.
‘One-man pride parade in a family group chat’
Last week, Wu PoShan came out as gay to his extended family on a group chat. His father shared misleading information about the gender equity education vote.
‘I wrote a long letter, debunking the lies and shared my story and stated why it is important’ the 28-year-old told Gay Star News.
‘I told them the core value was to teach students respect for different sexualities and gender identities. It doesn’t teach them to be gay’ said Wu.
He outlined the damage caused by excluding or discriminating against people.
‘I told them I was one of those people and I always felt somewhat different when I was younger’ he said. Wu told shared his deep fear and suffering as a youngster.
‘I told them how I cried in the bathroom, biting my arms so my mother couldn’t hear me crying.
‘But, if there was a teacher telling me that I’m not different and there would be more respect, then there would be less tears and pain in my life as I grew up.’
He said he felt confident to come out as he was old enough and in a secure relationship.
Some of his family members showed support, but mostly his message was ignored. ‘Maybe others will be gossiping behind my back, but its OK for me’.
Wu said he was feeling anxious ahead of the big vote. ‘Equality is one of the most important values we need for contemporary societies’ he said.
‘Teaching kids about LGBT won’t make them gay’
A 31-year-old Taiwanese photographer surnamed Wang told Gay Star News she left her family home for a week after failing to convince her parents to vote for LGBTI rights.
‘It’s a big dissaopintment’ she said. ‘My dad just can not accept same sex couples’.
She said her parents believe the LGBTI community is only a small percentage of the population, so Taiwan should not change its constitution for them.
She said the traditional mindset is deeply rooted. ‘Its not about God, but Chinese traditional concept of “family”’.
‘I feel ashamed of them for not understanding everyone deserves love and its not about their sexual orientation’, she said.
‘It’s about human rights’
Sean, a health professional living in Taipei, told Gay Star News it was a ‘crucial time’ for Taiwan.
Sean will be making the long trip back to his home town to vote in the referendum on Saturday. ‘It is very important to express my opinion on human rights’, he said.
Like many Taiwanese, Sean has been trying to persuade older relatives to vote for LGBTI equality in group chats on Line or Facebook.
After one of his relatives shared an anti-LGBTI e-flyer in a group chat, Sean shared equal marriage campaign information. ‘We had a discussion and I let them know about the modern concept of human rights’.
‘Everyone can have a different perspective to marriage’ he said. ‘However, the to choose [to marry] is a basic human right, no matter your sexual orientation’.
My conservative mother
Aki YJ Chen hopes Saturday’s vote can finally bring equal rights. These include hospital visitation rights, reduced taxes, insurance benefits. The 35-year-old lives with her partner in Taipei.
‘LGBT are no different from ordinary people. It is unreasonable that Taiwan will not let people marry just because Christian conservatives are fighting hard’.
Aki’s mother is a conservative public official. ‘She thinks that girls should dress up beautifully and find a husband’.
Her mother told her that if she was gay she would have to move out. So Aki did.
‘I am very disappointed by my relationship with my mother’, Aki said. She found acceptance at work and in wider society, however.
‘I can understand the pain of some LGBTI teenagers who are controlled by their parents because of their inability to be independent’.
‘That’s why Taiwan needs to vote in favor of LGBTI rights on Saturday’, she said.