Veronica Lin was singing and dancing to some K pop and classic Chinese songs with her friend Sienna Chen at Saturday’s 2020 Taiwan Pride in Taipei. They decorated themselves with tattoo stickers on their cheeks. The friends were among the 130,000 marchers on in the 18th annual event that began at Taipei’s city hall building.
Even though a brief rain occurred in the middle of the parade for five minutes, marchers were still cheering. Suddenly some pointing at the sky. Lin and Chen raised their heads. They saw a gorgeous rainbow that appeared over the sky.
“This is such a miracle,” said Lin, 18, who graduated from Taipei Wego Private Bilingual Senior High School this summer.
Lin brought a big rainbow flag and wore it. She tied it around like a cape over her clothes.
“This is the first time I participated in a parade that is so joyful and meaningful at the same time,” Lin said. “It is like clubbing. A male marcher just poured liquor into my mouth!”
Her friend Chen, 19, carried Lin’s bag, so people would see Lin’s flag flying in the air, as if she was a superhero walking along Ketagalan Boulevard.
“Today is also my 19th birthday. This is such a monumental moment in my life,” Chen said.
Due to Taiwan’s excellent performance in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, this may have been the largest Pride event around the world this year.
“There were one thousand marchers in 2003. In 17 years, I can’t even imagine we gathered two hundred thousand participants last year,” said Ya-Ting Cai, the secretary-general of Taiwan’s Rainbow Civil Action Association (TWRCAA), which organized the Pride this year.
She said it’s those marchers’ awareness of LGBT human rights and the changes in society that helped Pride gather so many people last year.
Taiwan LGBT Pride reached its own important birthday this year, the 18th. The theme was “Beauty, My Own Way.” TWRCAA associated the concept of growth and the age of 18 to inspire people to make their own life decisions.
Organizers also wanted people to pay attention to the continuing inequality of same-sex marriages in the country. Although Taiwan is the first and only country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages, in 2019, activists say there is still work to be done.
Taiwanese gay couples do not have the same rights as other married couples, under the law, including adoption, health care and the rights of inheritance.
“The result was disappointing because it means that we are viewed as freaks,” Cai said, referring to the new legislation.
Same-sex marriages in Taiwan are protected by a special law, Act for Implementation of J.Y. Interpretation No. 748, to enforce same-sex marriages. Traditional marriages are protected by The Civil Code.
Countries like Canada protect all marriages the same. The Canadian government implemented the Civil Marriage Act in 2005 to guarantee same-sex marriages. LGBT couples in Canada have the authorities to make decisions on behalf of their spouses for health care consent.
Some experts suggested that the wording of the 2018 national referendum is to blame for why same-sex marriages are protected by a special law.
The conservative organization Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation proposed, “Do you agree that the right of same-sex couples living together permanently should be regulated under other special laws that are independent from the Civil Code?”
According to the Taiwanese Referendum, which is an data analysis project led by a research team, the final result of the public referendum showed that the Yes side won by more than six million votes, which was about 32 per cent. The No side took up 20 per cent, while 44 per cent of eligible voters didn’t vote.
“But, I think we didn’t lose then. We’ve gained four million supporters in 16 years. The future is ours,” Cai said.
When Taiwan had its first Pride in 2003 with only one thousand marchers, they used to wear masks to prevent being identified on television. Now, even with the COVID-19 pandemic, hardly anyone was wearing a mask.
Cai says that even the news media no longer focuses on the Pride March as breaking news, but rather sees it as a family-friendly event.
Many Taiwanese people who were hiding their sexual orientations have felt encouraged to show their true identities.
Cai says that TWRCAA received a call earlier this year from a 62-year-old Taiwanese man who never came-out as gay to anyone in his entire life. For the first time, he felt liberated enough to be himself. He asked for more information to connect with other gay men who were around his own age.
TWRCAA introduced him to a LGBTQ mixer event for singles over 35 years old, hosted by Taiwan’s Tongzhi (LGBTQ+) Hotline Association.
Chen says there are still stereotypes about the LGBT community to tackle in Taiwan’s culture, including in the movie industry.
As a straight woman, when Chen watched the latest and popular Taiwanese gay movie, Your Name Engraved Herein, she admits she was shocked by the two male characters’ sex scenes.
“I think the media should adjust how they present the LGBTQ community,” Chen said. “For example, movies normally emphasize their sexual experience to show their identities.”
Chen said that movies and short clips on social media are where her mother learns about the gay and lesbian community. She thinks conservative people like her mother are too shocked by the sex scenes in movies to accept the LGBTQ community.
“The media directors should exploit less gay and lesbians’ sex scenes to differentiate them from heterosexuals,” Chen said. “Those conservative people might thus infer that learning sexual and gender diversity at schools could bring negative impacts to their kids.”
The conservative organization Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation said they were worried that young Taiwanese students might be sexually confused if they learned about gender or sexual diversity in school.
They also proposed another referendum question in 2018, “Do you agree that the Ministry of Education and individual schools should not cover LGBT materials in gender education in elementary and middle schools, as detailed in the Enforcement Rules for the Gender Equity Education Act?
According to Taiwanese Referendum, the final result banned teachers from teaching gay and lesbian education in elementary and middle schools, even though the government already legalized same-sex marriages.
Because of the result, advocates like Cai hoped holding the Pride this year could help implement gay and lesbian education in elementary and middle schools in the future.
“There was a lot of fake news to convince people that gay and lesbian education could turn their children gay and lesbian,” said Lin, who was Chen’s classmate at Taipei Wego Private Bilingual Senior High School.
Even in Ontario where same-sex marriages have been legal since 2003, Premier Doug Ford and some parents received pushback on sexuality education in the public school system.
“We should teach kids that it’s ok to be yourself if you have different sexual identities,” Chen said. “Because respect is the key to finding harmony in society.”
Lin also thinks implementing gay and lesbian education in elementary and middle schools is important. “But, family education may promote kids’ self-esteem better,” she said.
Lin said she would never tell her mother she is lesbian. She knows that her mother respects the LGBT community, but she is still afraid that their nice relationship would change if she told her the truth.
Chen, currently a freshman in political science at National Taiwan University, told her mother that she was going to Pride with Lin, and she was warned that people would consider Chen and Lin a couple.
However, Chen’s classmates told her attending Pride would be a mark of growth to step into society and an opportunity to discover her passion for political science.
“My mom had…planned my life since kindergarten, and I had no idea what I was doing in high school. I knew I wasn’t studying for myself,” Chen said. “Now becoming a freshman is a special time for me to take my control back. Plan my life in my own way.”
Lin is going to leave Taiwan next fall, she hopes, because she’s been accepted into film and television studies at Boston University. Her mother was not happy about her career choice, but Lin promises her parents she will be responsible for her decisions.
“Like the theme of Pride this year, 18 years old means growth to me,” Lin said. “It’s a dream come true because I have more options to accomplish my goals in my own way.”