Red Brick Daily
The 2016 Kaohsiung LGBT Pride Parade was fabulous — of course — and with Taiwan possibly soon becoming Asia’s first nation to legalize same-sex marriage, many participants expressed optimism about life as a gay person in Kaohsiung/Taiwan.
“Legalize Same-Sex Marriage” stickers, signs and banners were everywhere.
Taiwan’s “gay-tolerant” reputation is getting noticed worldwide. Toby Longhurst, a young openly gay Australian man, said he decided to come and work here after considering many Asian nations primarily due to Taiwan’s gay-friendly rep. Toby said he could not recall a single negative incident or experience associated with his sexuality since he arrived in Taiwan.
Other foreign nationals were likewise full of praise for Kaohsiung and Taiwan — and in fact, no expat person we spoke to said they had ever had problems being gay in Taiwan.
A UK man who’s lived in Taipei for close to 20 years, caught an HSR train to support his friends in Kaohsiung for Saturday’s Pride Parade. The old-timer said he’s seen giant leaps, recalling that at the first Taipei Pride, many wore masks to hide their identity … but overall, he noted, there are still a lot of old-fashioned attitudes that have yet to change.
“There isn’t overt hostility like you get back in the UK,” he explained. “But don’t for a minute think Taiwan isn’t a deeply traditional ‘Chinese/Confucian’ society … because it is. It’s one thing to say you ‘support gay rights,’ but when it’s your son telling you he’s gay — that’s a different story. Hopefully, same-sex marriage will help change all that … a gay couple could adopt a kid and ‘continue the family name.’ We’ll see.”
Speaking to local residents also provided a spectrum of views.
A heterosexual couple handing out rainbow flags told us they are obviously ‘straight,’ but felt it was important to show their support for same-sex marriage. “Do you care what I ate for breakfast?” the young man asked. “Of course not! Marriage is no one’s else’s business. Why should anyone care? And why should anyone’s rights be denied for no reason? — Taiwan will definitely become the first state in Asia with legal same-sex marriage,” they both affirmed with conviction.
Young people in Taiwan, surveys show, pretty overwhelming agree with the young rainbow flag-waving couple — that same-sex marriage should be legal.
But young people aren’t the ones who’ll be voting on the question in the Legislative Yuan.
“I trust that President Tsai is genuine in her support for gay rights,” a woman told us. “I don’t trust the DPP, however. Old thinking takes a long time to die.”
It wasn’t hard to find people who wanted to talk, but that was likely made easier by offering anonymity.
A dozen young people crowded around a man dressed as Disney’s Princess Elsa as they told us their stories.
All of them said it’s still not easy being gay in Kaohsiung.
Out of the group … just one was “out.”
The #1 reason? — “My parents could never accept it.” It was sad to hear.
The one man who had “come out”… said his mom’s reaction was to suggest a psychiatrist. It’s been several years, but she’s still hoping he’ll find a good shrink.
It’s not all gloom and doom; on the contrary, many told us about big changes in more personal ways — many gay people, we were told, are finding groups of open-minded friends or workmates, and enjoying their lives openly … inside these circles of confidants.
One man currently doing mandatory military service said the guys in his unit all know he’s gay — he told them as they became friends — and it’s never been a problem.
“We have to think about this logically,” a woman interjected. “Taiwan has been a democracy for a very short period of time. To even get this far is pretty incredible. We can’t expect radical change in such a short period. Oh, and by the way … they won’t pass the same-sex marriage bill this year … not next year either.”
All of the group agreed with the woman.
“The legislators will talk and talk … when voting day comes, they’ll vote ‘NO’ and say, ‘we’re just listening to the majority of our constituents.’ –Taiwan doesn’t change that fast.”
It was a surprising point of view. Recent media reports have all but declared Taiwan on the cusp of legalizing same-sex marriage.
But these Kaohsiung LGBTQ folks might have their pulse on something.
Most Taiwanese are not overtly hostile to gays. But far too many, this group of Kaohsiung friends explained, have a different type of hostility … bred from a tradition of strictly defined roles — in all areas of life, including gender.
“These are the folks that aren’t ready for change yet. They might even say they are pro-gay to seem ‘cosmopolitan,’ but their hearts have a different view,” said a man with a small rainbow flag painted on his face.
None of the people we spoke with had ever been subjected to violence or intimidation due to their sexual orientation … and that in itself is pretty remarkable, considering just a few hours away by plane in Malaysia, these folks could be in jail for being gay.
“No one screams nasty words or makes comments to us directly,” two men told us after saying they hold hands in public and even sometimes kiss. “But isn’t hard to guess what they’re thinking.”
In conclusion: Being gay in Kaohsiung in the last weeks of 2016 is the best time ever to be gay in Kaohsiung, nay, in all Taiwan.
Taiwan deserves its “gay-tolerant” label … but as many told us in different ways: being tolerant is the not the same as being supportive.
If you’re a gay expat … it can be pretty easy sailing here.
If you’re a 23-year-old closeted gay man from Kaohsiung — life is a bit more complicated, to say the least.
Overall … being gay in Kaohsiung/Taiwan means never having to worry about getting beat up (which is awesome) but so many feel forced to conceal their sexuality because it ‘makes things easier.’ (which is sad)
Taiwan is a better place to be gay than virtually any other place in Asia and legalizing same-sex marriage could certainly help begin the transition from tepid ‘tolerance’ to ‘active support’ … for all the colors of the rainbow.
But whether we change the law or not, changing hearts and minds could possibly be the bigger challenge.
(All photos by Shai Hsin)