Shout Out to LGBT in Taiwan: Let's Be Out and Visible

Shout Out to LGBT in Taiwan: Let's Be Out and Visible
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

'I eagerly anticipate the appearance of Taiwanese versions of Ellen deGeneres, Matthew Bonham, Anderson Cooper, Tim Cook, Ellen Page, Rachel Maddow, and so on.'

Over the Lunar New Year in Southern Taiwan, I met up with a family friend and a well-respected lawyer who has practiced law for over 25 years. I was planning to recruit her assistance in persuading influential figures and politicians in the South to support the same-sex marriage bill. She needed very little persuasion as she is aware of the legal semantics, and offered to arrange meetings with legislators and business leaders to garner their support. I was very gratified to receive her resounding support.

I then asked if she could introduce any LGBT people in Southern Taiwan for me to connect with. I was met with silence and then a regrettable shake of her head to tell me that she does not know of any gays. There was someone who she thinks might be gay, but has yet to come out to her.

This is the big dilemma to me and something the LGBT community needs to address. We have many straight allies who support marriage equality on the principles of equality, love, and commitment, but many who in reality do not know gays personally — much less gays who want to marry or start a family.

The further away one is from Taipei, the more extreme this contradiction grows. It is most pronounced in the rural provinces where many of the younger folks have left (in some cases escaped) for college or work, only to return during brief occasions such as the Lunar New Year. During these occasions, even for those who are out amongst friends or co-workers, many would put themselves back in the closet to avoid family conflict, shame, or controversy, especially in extended family gatherings.

It certainly does not help that there are very few successful LGBT role models in media, business, or any other profession. Indeed, many straight celebrities have publicly come out to support gays rights, such as A-Mei, Soda Green, May Day, but only a very small handful of celebrities such as Hush, HOCC, Kevin Tsai can share their lives and experiences as gay individuals. On television programs, the Taiwanese audience rarely sees LGBT storylines, except for the occasional episodes on the Public Television Station (PTS) or few minutes in a TV series. I eagerly anticipate the appearance of Taiwanese versions of Ellen deGeneres, Matthew Bonham, Anderson Cooper, Tim Cook, Ellen Page, Rachel Maddow, and so on.

I am hopeful because in the U.S. we have seen a surge of LGBT personalities and characters in the last 10 years. If we look at the number of LGBT characters on U.S. television, the numbers have grown from 14 in 2005 for main and recurring characters to 271 in 2015. Perhaps we do not even need the statistics to confirm what we can already experience with our own eyes on digital platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon. As for LGBT personalities, Out Magazine and other such publications keep track of out and gay figures, and there is much to keep track of because there are so many achievements made by this increasingly expanding pool of role models.

Taiwan is not there yet, but I believe we will get there soon, and we should heavily use the internet as the platform to reach the widest audience possible. and, two websites I launched last year, have a Features section for “Out People” where we interview influential and intriguing individuals who just happen to be gay. We have interviewed journalists, artists, doctors, gay parents, priests, lawyers, and the latest video features Jason Chue, an American career diplomat who is currently the deputy chief of A.I.T. Kaohsiung. We hope that “Out People” will give an opportunity for people like my lawyer friend to “virtually meet” people like Jason and find common ground.

As for dramatized content, Taiwan is currently undergoing a renaissance in LGBT-related productions: the Chinese literary classic “Dream of Red Mansions (紅樓夢)” has been adapted into a gay feature that stars principle photography today; a lebsian couple is featured in Wei Te-sheng’s (魏德聖) latest film “52HZ I Love You”; Zero Chou (周美玲) is releasing a slate of lesbian films with cast from Taiwan, China and other locations throughout Greater China; a transgender is the central character of Chen Hung-i’s (陳宏一) latest feature “The Last Painting” that just premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

Many more features and shorts are in various stages of development, pre-production, production and distribution. The internet is also brimming with shorts and web series, capturing the attention of the youth especially and forcing traditional media to take notice, adapt or else become irrelevant in the near future.

I am in a privileged position to be working in media and to be gay and out in life, at work, and with my family. I do what I can to amplify our collective visibility so as to make it easier for others in the future. Coming out requires tremendous planning and courage, and everyone has his or her own timeline. But I know in the near future, instead of sending various videos and articles links to people like my lawyer friend, people can instead introduce me to gay individuals in their own friend and family circles.

But before that happens, lights, camera, and action!

Editor: Olivia Yang