Challenging the Gender Binary in Taiwan: An Interview With Victoria Hsu

Challenging the Gender Binary in Taiwan: An Interview With Victoria Hsu
Photo Credit: TAPCPR

What you need to know

Victoria Hsu of Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights answers our questions on Taiwan's post-marriage equality landscape.

Taiwan’s 2020 Pride Parade will be held on October 31. In the past few years, Taiwan’s same-sex marriage legislation has been in the media limelight, especially after it took effect on May 24, 2019. LGBT groups didn’t stop pursuing their rights after same-sex marriage legalization. What are their goals now? What is the unfinished work in the legal system? How are LGBT groups dealing with their political differences?

We interviewed Victoria Hsu, director for Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), for her insights on a “post-marriage equality” era in Taiwan.

How did same-sex marriage legalization affect your organization’s initiatives?

Hsu: After the approval of the same-sex marriage bill, it seems that we, as an organization, finally have time to think about how to discuss this issue in the next phase. It was us who started to talk about marriage equality, but the developments and political wrestling that followed have significantly broadened the space for discussion. In other words, as the marriage equality movement has developed throughout the years, it is now impossible for a single organization to decide how it moves forward.

In the past few years, the political debate about whether and when the bill can be approved was contentious — whether it is a heated argument or no discussion at all. The allocation of our internal resources and attention is subject to these dynamics, so it was difficult to set our own agenda for discussion.

The same-sex marriage bill is imperfect. But for the first time, it gives us some space to imagine how we can design an agenda for discussion as an organization. I have been working on issues like transgender culture, among others, in order to deepen our relationship with local governments. We finally have some time to talk with our volunteer workers about these and other types of collaborations and exchange our opinions.

What’s the biggest impact of the same-sex marriage legislation?

Hsu: The legislation has had an impact on the public sector, as well as pro-gay and anti-gay groups. I’ll go through each of them one by one.

伴侶盟代表在曼谷分享台灣經驗
Photo Credit: CNA
Hsu (standing) shared Taiwan's experience in promoting marriage equality at a forum in Bangkok in 2019.

The legislation has had a great, if not the greatest, impact on the public sector. In response to the legislation, government agencies have to change the way they design forms and software. They even have to start using gender-neutral words. Also, those agencies whose work involves gender mainstreaming and gender consciousness have to understand the content of the bill. In the past, the public sector could choose to avoid taking a stand on gender issues, or sometimes resist, but not now.

With the legalization of same-sex marriage, the public sector has to take the existence of gay people and same-sex relationships seriously, and this will affect how the state allocates resources for this group of people. It is not an option for government officials to be evasive and pretend “they have not seen them” because there are statistics for each city or county available that show how many gay couples have registered to marry. The type of respect that Taiwanese society used to offer is more like that “you will not be persecuted and are allowed to exist,” but after the approval of the bill, it requires the government to take you seriously and guarantee resources and basic protections.

The legislation also has a great impact on the anti-gay community because nothing they talked about has happened after the bill was approved. Society sees the fact that gay people are allowed to marry does not affect heterosexual people’s rights and interests. The anti-gay groups have then switched gears. They will reset the agenda for the anti-gay movement, start to dominate the discussion on other issues, and try to narrow the space for the gay movement and LGBT’s expressions. But I believe their influence is very limited. I do not think it is easy for them to gain massive political support in the future.

For gay people, in fact, they are simply given one more choice in life. Previously, they could not choose (if they want to get married), but now they have to confront whether they want to marry or not. I think what makes a life valuable is that we have control over our choice (though sometimes people avoid freedom). 

What kind of problems arose out of the same-sex marriage legislation and require the attention of public and advocacy groups?

Hsu: First and foremost, cross-national same-sex marriage is not included in the bill. Marriage equality, for many, is not a reality yet. This is what we have been continuing to advocate for. In fact, as early as 2017, TAPCPR has held a forum to discuss this topic, and we have also given our suggestions to lawmakers and government officials. The bill passed in 2019, due to political pressure, is one that serves only to defend the bottom line — to allow same-sex couples to register marriages. Many other aspects of equality, in our view, are still not yet achieved. Our mission is not complete yet.

伴侶盟提7大訴求  盼保障跨性別人權
Photo Credit: CNA
TAPCPR members, including Hsu (third from left), announced seven policy demands based on what they called the largest-ever survey of Taiwan's transgender community on the International Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, 2020.

According to the analysis by Chien Tsu-chieh (簡至潔) and Chang Yu-an (張妤安) in ‘Despite Ten Years Advocating for Same-Sex Marriage, We Need to Join Hands Towards Equality’ (〈同婚十年,仍須攜手走向「平權」〉), there are five major unresolved problems:

  1. Measures are lacking for cross-national same-sex marriage, which is subject to four different rules.
  2. Adoption rights are not exhaustive (same-sex couples are now only allowed to adopt their partner’s biological children as step parents).
  3. The Artificial Reproduction Act does not apply equally to same-sex couples.
  4. Regulations are lacking for in-law relationships based on same-sex marriage.
  5. The same-sex marriage bill states that freedom of religion is protected, but it can possibly lead to cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Another important issue is related to transgender people. The bill now only allows two people of the same gender to get married, but for a transgender or bisexual person, their marriage, depending on who they marry, can be based on the civil code or the special law. They will be entitled to different sets of rights as the law applies to them changes. This is absurd, but it is the result of the gender binary classification.

Here is the reason why this issue matters so much to us: What our movement is seeking to challenge is the binary structure and order for gender and the idea of heterosexual marriage as default and mainstream. We hope to redefine how we imagine gender order through advocating for ideas like gender liberation and equality.

In regard to transgender issues, we believe we should cancel the requirement for people to undergo gender reassignment surgery before requesting for gender redesignation on ID cards. We have organized a work group this year to start the litigation.

Lastly, we are advocating for the amendment of anti-discrimination and equality regulations. TAPCPR has been representing defendants in quite a lot of anti-discrimination cases. Through these court cases, we hope to broaden the understanding of gender diversity in legal practices and set a benchmark for equality. Without the legal procedures establishing it, gender discrimination will not be terminated. In the future, we will try our best to contribute to the process of the modification of equality regulations with our practical experience. In fact, a comprehensive set of anti-discrimination regulations is based on our full understanding and knowledge of all the cases. To us, such an understanding is the flesh of future laws. Without experience with real cases, it is difficult to make the law, which is abstract. The anti-discrimination law in each country has something to do with its socio-cultural context. In Taiwan, local experience is also necessary to refine the law.

Why do you think it’s still important for the LGBT community to keep participating in Pride and other movements?

Hsu: Despite the approval of the bill, we still have a lot to do and to work hard on, far beyond the one day on the streets. To us, social movements are daily battles. It is not possible to demand immediate results from what we do, but we hope its effects accumulate and lay a better foundation for Taiwan’s equality movements in the future. Perhaps we will not see success when we are in charge, but we will lay a great foundation for the future generation to take over.

READ NEXT: Post-Marriage Equality, What's Next for Taiwan? An Interview With Jennifer Lu

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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