On October 29, 2016 Taipei hosted the largest Gay Pride parade in Asia. With over 80,000 people in attendance, people gathered to show their support for the LGBTQ community while also voicing their concerns for the legalization of gay marriage.
Just weeks before Pride, Jacques Picoux committed suicide by falling from a 10-story building. Picoux was a lecturer on French language and literature at National Taiwan University and his death was significant, as it was assumed that he committed suicide over his depression of losing his life partner of 35 years, Tseng Ching-Chao, to cancer. Due to gay marriage being illegal in Taiwan, Picoux felt helpless while his partner suffered during an emergency procedure. He had no legal rights that most spouses would have. Picoux thus became a symbol in the fight towards marriage equality (FocusTaiwan.com)
Five months ago, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the election in Taiwan, electing president Tsai Ing-Wen. This is significant for the LGBT community, because the DPP is much more supportive than the KMT towards marriage legalization. The DPP’s platform is considerate towards the LGBTQ community, and they have made efforts towards voting on policies for the legalization of gay marriage. The BBC (October 2016) referenced news from the Taipei Times saying that “the DPP announced new measures to allow homosexual party employees the same honeymoon leave and wedding gift entitlement that heterosexual couple get.” Though the DPP has been making progress towards initializing equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community, there is still much progress to be made in terms of marriage equality and family rights. he call for marriage equality was apparent when observing the festivities during Pride. Many participants carried signs or wore pins with the words “marriage equality.” To achieve a deeper insight, my project partner and I interviewed twenty Taiwanese attendees to see how they felt about the event. We asked them what 1) Pride means to them, 2)if they have seen a difference in Taiwan’s governmental policies towards the LGBTQ community in the past 10 years, 3) what are the biggest issues for the LGBTQ community in Taiwan, and finally, 4) what do they think will change in the future for Taiwan.
When asking the attendees, “What does Pride mean to you,” many people responded that Pride is a platform for the Taiwanese to be their true self , while also expressing their hopes for society. Kevin, age 24, stated “Pride is a place and event for people to express themselves as who they are. It is a safe environment for LGBTQ community to have a voice.” Another participant who preferred to stay anonymous stated, “Pride means love and acceptance in my country.”“
When discussing the major changes towards LGBTQ in the past 10 years, most people discussed social and attitudinal changes, and they commented that there has been very little legal changes. Bobo stated, “There is more openness and kindness.” Ken Nang, age 25, gave a thorough insight when he said, “Well, the gay pride parade started in 2003. At that time, there were only like 2 to 3 thousand people in the parade. Today there are more than 10 thousand people joining the parade. This means a lot of people are supporting more of LGBT and gay rights.” Though Taiwan has become socially accepting, many of the interviewees said that it is now time for the government to do their part.
Overall marriage equality was the most popular answer when asked “What is the biggest issue for the LGBTQ community?” Some other concerns were adoption, antidiscrimination in the workplace, and more acceptance among everyone in society. In regards to what citizens predict for Taiwan’s future, most wrote that they hoped that gay marriage would be passed under the new DPP legislation.
Pride 2016 created a platform for both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people to interact and create dialogues. Through this social interaction, civil society grows, and what grew out of Pride 2016 was further civic engagement, as attendees called for marriage equality.
It is uncertain whether or not same-sex marriage will be legalized in the near future. What we observed led us to believe there is a promising future for the LGBTQ community in Taiwan. It is through their civic engagement towards making a change, that Taiwanese society will improve, not only for the LGBTQ community, but for greater society too. Pride has been an effective way to showcase the LGBTQ’s ability to ‘show their strength’, ‘show that they are visible and proud’, and ‘proclaim their demands of equality toward state and society’ (Holzhacker,2012). There is a voice among the LGBTQ community in Taiwan, but today that voice has grown significantly stronger. It was Hegel who stated that civil society is the place where the ‘individual’ becomes a ‘public person’ (Kaldor, 2003).
Throughout Pride 2016 and Mr. Gay Taiwan, individuals became public persons. This is important because, unlike before, attendees made their LGBTQ identity more visible than seen in previous years. The majority of people we interviewed, gave us permission to photograph them, and those who didn’t, still partook in activities and waved flags. Upward of 80,000 people attended Pride 2016 to make their LGBTQ identities and support for same-sex marriage public.
Even if same-sex marriage is not passed through the legislator, the people of Taiwan can be proud in the knowledge that they partook in democratic protests and attempted to make society better. What is important is that Taiwanese civil society clearly exhibits high levels of engagement. Supporters of LGBTQ rights are mobilized, and through democratic processes, are seeking to improve society. Pai Hsien-Yung once said that being gay in Taiwan had meant they had no ‘government’ or ‘constitution’ and that they are not ‘recognized or respected by anyone’ (Simon, 2004). Today, it is apparent that through making themselves public in civil society, the LGBTQ community are now more recognized and respected. With the rise of their social movement calling for same-sex marriage rights, they will soon be protected in the constitution. Through this legislation, there will hopefully not be another Picoux in Taiwan’s future.