OPINION: Is Taiwan Really a Beacon for LGBT Rights in Asia?

OPINION: Is Taiwan Really a Beacon for LGBT Rights in Asia?
Photo Credit: Shih-Shiuan Kao@Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

What you need to know

Taiwan's LGBT community has an easier time than many, but more needs to be done for such progress to receive international recognition.

Taiwan, with its commitment to be the first Asian country to legalize gay marriage, should have been the star of the 2017 ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) Asia conference in Phnom Penh. In reality, it was hardly a blip on the radar.

A previous speaker at the 2015 Taipei conference, I came as a participant to find possible partners to ally with for our GagaOOLala [LGBT streaming movie] service and to research which subjects we might use for an upcoming documentary web series. The issues that were explored – 23 sessions concerning 25 nations – were a bit daunting and overwhelming, but there are three observations that I would like to share:

Far too few Taiwanese organizations were present

Only one Taiwanese LGBT nongovernmental organization (NGO) was present to share Taiwan’s progress toward marriage equality. We often brag that Taiwan is the beacon of LGBT rights in Asia, but what is the point of this beacon if people are not following it to come ashore and engage in dialog with us?

With a Pride parade that had crowds of over 120,000 people, LGBT support rallies that amassed 250,000 participants and online fundraising campaigns that raised over US$350,000 in a period of three days, it is a pity that there are not more Taiwanese organizations and individuals there. Taiwan needs to create lasting face-to-face connections. Fortunately, Taipei-based LGBT organization Tongzhi Hotline sent three representatives who spoke on various panels, but there could and should be more.

The most urgent issues vary dramatically in each country.

While Taiwan is focusing its efforts on legalizing marriage equality, many LGBT individuals in West and South Asian countries are concerned about how to stay alive and avoid physical violence. Xulhaz Mannan of Bangladesh was hacked to death last year for publishing the country’s only LGBT magazine, but nobody has been charged for his brutal murder. This horrific violence will silence those wanting to speak out. Meanwhile in Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, delegates were more concerned about how to catch-up on LGBT activism by starting queer film festivals and implementing gender education in schools.

I realize how privileged and lucky I am to be living in Taiwan with the loving support that I have from family, colleagues and friends. I met up with several gay parents from Thailand and the Philippines. Despite their kids being in their teens, they still fear discrimination and worry that visibility could jeopardize their relationship and children. This opportunity for dialogue with parents from across the region, including out-and-proud parents from Hong Kong and Australia, makes me feel at least more connected and part of this global rainbow family.

Third, Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation is a double-edged sword.

Perhaps one of the key reasons why Taiwan sent so few participants is because it is not an officially recognized part of the international community. ILGA gets significant funding from the United Nations (UN) and the European Union. Taiwan, a UN outcast, is unable to tap into important funding nor participate in or conduct studies through organizations like the United Nations Development Program.

The result is that there is a great deal of research commissioned by organizations from UN member countries which analyzes and documents the status of LGBT communities, but Taiwan is never included. One afternoon, I heard presentations about research findings in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and China — but nothing on Taiwan.

But perhaps this type of isolation gives us a can-do attitude, enabling Taiwan to rely less on foreign aid and focus more on effectively and productively finding ways to fund, conduct and analyze research related to LGBT topics.

For these three days, we sub-groups of the LGBTQIA community, minorities in every society, became the majority present at Hotel Cambodiana. I get to go back to the safety of home and hug my adorable babies. Others will reluctantly return to an environment where they must constantly watch their back as well as what they say or do.

I am privileged, but ironically, I am just asking to be treated the same. I hope that this privilege and “sameness” will spread far and wide to every participant of ILGA Asia.

TNL editor: Morley J Weston


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