OPINION: Why We Need 'Out in Taiwan'

OPINION: Why We Need 'Out in Taiwan'
Credit: Leslie Kee va Jay Lin

What you need to know

The exhibition 'Out in Taiwan' could not come at a more important time for LGBTQ rights in Asia.

I first heard of "Out in Asia" and its creator, the world-famous fashion photographer Leslie Kee, in 2016, while I was a speaker at the Nara International Film Festival (NIFF) in Japan.

The festival’s founder, film director Naomi Kawase, collaborated with "Out in Japan" to arrange the display of hundreds of black and white portrait photographs throughout the NIFF venues in Nara.

At first glance, these walls of photographs, lined up neatly in rows and columns, resembled ID pictures. Up close, however, the secret behind Leslie Kee’s simplicity was revealed: every still captured each individual’s unique aura, all filled with undeniable confidence, happiness, and pride. The "Out in Asia" series is a project to depict LGBTQ people from all walks of life who are out of the closet with the goal of reaching 10,000 unique portraits by 2022.

Credit: via Jay Lin
Jay Lin (L) with Naomi Kawase at the Nara International Film Festival.

At the time, I did not understand the significance of an exhibition featuring out people, until I realized how difficult it is to actually be fully out. I only came out to my parents just before I turned 40, even though I have been coming out of the closet to various people (friends, classmates, colleagues, siblings, etc.) since college.

Especially among my friends in Asia, I still hear woeful tales of wanting to come out to your family, but ending up succumbing to family pressure, sometimes even self-inflicted, and getting married to someone from the opposite sex.

I have friends who have been in relationships for decades and still cannot refer to each other as partners in the presence of colleagues or parents. Worse still, there are gay parents who must hide the fact that they have children from family members.

Credit: via Jay Lin
Jay Lin and Leslie Kee at the Nara International Film Festival.

Sometimes, I truly wonder whether the biggest obstacle in the path towards marriage equality might be the necessity for gay people to come out to everyone, to make them realize that LGBTQ people are already everywhere.

If only a few people are willing to be out and visible, then society can be misled by stereotypes that negatively portray LGBTQ people, and be deceived into inadvertently supporting inequality, discrimination and prejudice.

Earlier this year, Gon Matsunaka, founder of "Good Aging Yells" and sponsor of "Out in Japan," invited me to join the latest "Out in Japan" photoshoot in Fukuoka, a city that earned a special place in my heart in the year I spent there after completing college.

Credit: via Jay Lin
Gon Matsunaka (front row, far left) and the 'Out in Japan' team in Fukuoka.

Fukuoka had just passed a law allowing same-sex domestic partnership registration, and Leslie Kee was there to photograph the proud Fukuokans that wanted to be the "faces" of this municipal ordinance.

I brought a small team from Taiwan to record the photoshoot and conduct interviews, as I wanted to showcase "Out in Japan" as a fairly simple initiative – a collection of more than 1,500 photos -- that has had a massive impact in changing Japanese society's perception of LGBT people. I did not realize this second meeting with Leslie would bring us one step closer to "Out in Taiwan."

Credit: Leslie Kee via Jay Lin

During Singapore's Pink Dot 10th year celebration, Leslie photographed and later exhibited "Out in Singapore." The exhibition included Lee Huanwu, Lee Kuan Yew's grandson, together with his boyfriend, Yirui Heng. This had huge repercussions in Singapore, where the government still criminalizes homosexuality, due to the colonial 377A section, and LGBT movies and content are heavily censored or banned altogether from theaters and TV channels. I was excited to see "Out in Singapore", with 150 portraits, also play an important role in swaying Singaporeans to repeal 377A.

On a Saturday morning in mid-September, Leslie called me and asked me whether I would consider hosting "Out in Taiwan," especially given this year's upcoming Same-Sex Marriage Referendum on Nov. 24. Two years had passed since our first encounter in Nara, but the timing was just right to finally collaborate and bring OUT the lives of the LGBTQ people of Taiwan through these powerful pictures.

Credit: Leslie Kee via Jay Lin
More than 200 people attended a photoshoot that ran for 17 hours in Taipei.

Just one month later, on Oct. 20, a non-stop 17-hour photoshoot marathon took place until 5 a.m. Two hundred people came to the GagaOOLala offices to be photographed by Leslie Kee. On Oct. 27, the same day as the celebrations for the 16th Taipei Pride, which witnessed a record attendance of 137,000 people, we opened the photography exhibition to guests from all over the world.

Credit: Leslie Kee via Jay Lin

There is only about three weeks left before the referenda, and already so much negative smearing by the haters and anti-equality campaigners. I hope this photo exhibition (open until Nov. 4, 2018), will bring some light and positiveness.

If you or your friends can make it, please do come.

If you cannot, please go to the online exhibition on the website.

If you hear or know of people who claim that they do not know any gays or that queer people presence in society is minimal, please share the link with them.

If you happen to encounter fake news and mischaracterization of LGBTQ people, please share the link. These 160 photographs will prove them wrong.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how about 160 of them?

Exhibition location: 2F., No.41, Neijiang St., Wanhua Dist., Taipei City (TAGather store)

Official website: www.outintaiwan.tw

Read Next: Out in Taiwan: Standing for Equality with Fashion Photographer Leslie Kee

Editor David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)

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