On Saturday afternoon, a multicolored assemblage of about 50,000 people from 20 countries gathered in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei to support calls for the government to recognize — and just as importantly, legalize — same-sex unions.
For a relatively conservative Asian society, the turnout for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Pride parade, which was celebrating its first decade, was more than respectable. The fact that the parade took part in an open-minded, orderly and welcoming atmosphere was just as important.
There were none of the hateful protesters and religious zealots who all too often turn up at similar parades in the US, or in Russia, where non-heterosexuals are often physically assaulted by extremists.
Passers-by looked on with curiosity, ice cream vendors had a field day, petitions were signed and participants, from the scantily clad to the gaudily plumed, had a blast having their pictures taken while supporting an important social cause.
That such progressiveness could take root within a traditional society is testament to the social progress that has occurred in Taiwan. This is an example to other societies, including that across the Taiwan Strait, where difference is treated as a malady rather than something to celebrate.
That is not to say that discrimination does not occur in Taiwan. Despite the openness that characterized Saturday’s event, homosexuals continue to live under the shadow of intolerance, both in society at large and, even more devastatingly, within their own families. This often forces them to live a lie or to clip their wings, as it were.
What is even more unacceptable is that such intolerance toward the “other” often rears its ugly head among ardent supporters of Taiwan, both in Taiwan and in the West. Such individuals occasionally make comments in online forums or at public venues that they fail to realize will hurt people in their midst, who must then retreat deep into the closet and, as a consequence, deny the community of their hard-earned expertise in combating intolerance.
Given Taiwan’s isolation within the international community and its people’s fight for recognition — the absence of which being itself a form of discrimination — the nation should instead tap into the lessons learned by minorities, such as homosexuals, and the strategies they adopt to protect their rights.
Not only should Taiwanese learn to emulate some of those tactics, they must realize how significant it would be for Taiwan’s image abroad if it were to take the lead on the issue of homosexuality by legalizing same-sex marriage. Such a move would not go unnoticed and would send a strong signal that Taiwan is, indeed, a distinct society that continues fearlessly along the path of modernity. Any supporter of Taiwan should realize how helpful support for such a social cause could be to the cause of national self-determination.
The issue also presents an opportunity for an administration that so far has had little to show in terms of successful policies. With his popularity levels in the gutter, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) could certainly use such a win, especially as he portrays himself as well-attuned to human rights issues. For its part, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could make the issue its own by pushing a policy that would confirm the party’s role as a progressive voice for change and the betterment of the nation. It’s not enough for DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) to say that he supports same-sex marriage; concrete steps must be taken.