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‘The road to equality is never smooth’: LGBTI Taiwan vows to fight on

‘The road to equality is never smooth’: LGBTI Taiwan vows to fight on

Prominent LGBTI campaigners address media after referendum results came in (Photo: Facebook)

Taiwan voted against changing the country’s Civil Code to recognize same-sex marriage on Saturday (24 November).

It was a devastating defeat for the LGBTI community. Taiwan has long been heralded as the ‘best place to be gay in Asia’.

The island hosts the region’s largest pride parade. What’s more, it was set to become the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex unions.

‘After Saturday, we don’t know if our ‘safe zone’ is going to be safe or not,’ said Chu Yi, a 28-year-old digital marketer in Taiwan.

After a bitter referendum campaign, two-thirds of voters opted for a separate law to recognize gay and lesbian partnerships. Taiwan said it will enact the new law within three months.

Worryingly, Taiwan residents also voted against a gender equality education. Launched in 2004, the law promotes awareness of LGBTI issues in the national curriculum.

Conservative campaigners ran a well-funded campaign of misinformation and scaremongering.

Members of the LGBTI community said they were saddened and hurting deeply. They also vowed to continue the fight for equality.

Chair of the Equal Marriage Coalition Taiwan, Jennifer Lu, took to Facebook to reassure the community.

‘Check in with your LGBT friends’ she urged. ‘You may just save a life’.

Taiwanese queue to vote in referendums (Photo: Facebook)
Taiwanese queue to vote in referendums (Photo: Facebook)

‘Gays shouldn’t be judged in public like this’

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court had ruled in 2017 that same-sex couples should be granted ‘equal protection of the freedom to marry’. It gave a two-year deadline for parliament to enact legislation. It failed to do so.

Instead, new referendum laws allowed anti-LGBTI groups to petition the government to hold a referendum. They urged parliament to enact separate legislation to recognize same-sex couples rather than change the Civil Code.

LGBTI campaigners on Saturday denounced these referendums as ‘unconstitutional’.

‘I question whether topics or themes like human rights should be decided upon through a plebiscite’, LGBTI rights advocate Jay Lin said.

‘We have witnessed fake news, propaganda, sensationalism arresting people’s hearts and minds with a lot fear and anxiety’, he told Gay Star News.

Conservative groups spent more than US$3 million on ‘baseless claims of enhanced stigmatization, discrimination, fear’, LGBTI advocates said on Saturday.

‘What I’m angry about is the system’ Sean, a health professional living in Taipei, told Gay Star News. ‘Gays shouldn’t be judged in public like this’

Chu Yi agreed that it was ‘unfortunate’ that equal marriage had to be put to a public vote.

‘One step backward, two steps forward’

‘We’re hurting deeply now, but the road to equality is never smooth’ Chu Yi told Gay Star News.

It is good that the general public had to think about LGBTI issues, he said. The community can get better at educating others, he said.

Longtime LGBTI rights campaigner in Taiwan Chi Jia Wei provided some words of encouragement this weekend.

‘More than two million voters, including many heterosexuals, really understand and respect LGBTQ+ communities’ said Chi Jia Wei.

Jay Lin said the referendum showed 30 percent of voters supported LGBTI rights. Meanwhile, the LGBTI population accounts for only five to ten percent.

‘There’s still quite a lot of work ahead of us, and we will get there’ he said. ‘Sometimes we have to take one step backward to take two steps forward’.

He said the community would build more coalitions in Taiwan and abroad.

Taiwan’s Executive Yuan will now draft the separate law and pass it to the legislature. Jay Lin said he would be working hard to lobby legislators.

‘We will also continue the dialogue with the masses, to address the fear and anxieties we have seen in the last two months, he said.