Carrying rainbow flags, nearly 1,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans-genders and their supporters marched along a 1.5km stretch of downtown Taipei in the first gay pride parade in Taiwan yesterday afternoon.
Welcoming those who came to join them with cheers and hugs and shouting, "We are homosexuals! We love you!" to hundreds of spectators along the way, the joyful procession marched for 30 minutes from 228 Park (二二八和平公園), along Hengyang Road (衡陽路), to the Red Playhouse (紅樓) in Ximending.
"I certainly wish we could go on [and march] for three hours across the city, but this is already a good start," said Lee Ming-chao (李明照), director of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline (台灣同志諮詢熱線), a major homosexual help group, which organized the parade. The word "tongzhi" means comrade and includes gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-genders.
Tokyo held its first lesbian and gay parade in 1994 and it has since been held sporadically. In South Korea, 600 marched around a park in Seoul, in June, for its first Lesbian and Gay Parade. Homosexuals in Thailand have the Bangkok Gay Pride Parade, which grows bigger every year and was said to be have attracted 200,000 marchers last year, according to city officials.
"Tokyo did it. Thailand did it. Since Taipei bills itself as an international metropolis, we can try it," Lee said.
As part of the Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights Movement, Taipei, (台北同玩節) an annual homosexual community fair organized by Hotline for the past four years, the gay pride parade is Hotline's latest effort to push the envelope for social acceptance of homosexuals.
"As previous events went down well with the public, this year we expanded it outside a fixed location, to test what is acceptable by the public," Lee said.
Taipei City Government has subsidized previous festivals and granted NT$720,000 this year, which, Lee said was not much, but enough for the rental of basic equipment and lunch boxes for volunteer workers.
"We would also like support from government officials, in the way the New York mayor attended the march [in New York]." said Lai Gang-yan (賴岡言), a volunteer worker at Hotline.
Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), appeared at the end of the parade for a motivational speech.
Both the starting and destination points have historical meaning for the gay community. As a decades-long clandestine meeting ground for homosexuals, 228 Park, previously called New Park, was the setting for Taiwanese novelist Kenneth Pai's (白先勇) 1990 gay classic Crystal Boys (孽子), which opens with the protagonist being thrown out of his home by his gun-brandishing father raging at his homosexuality. The parade ended in Ximending, at the Red Playhouse, because it used to be a popular gay hangout in the 1970s, when it was a rundown cinema.
Leading the way on the march were two black-suited young women holding hands, with their "brides" in tow, dressed in sequined red and white wedding gowns. They were followed by a motley bunch of military officers, chest-baring cowboys and a dolled-up young man in a flowery kimono. Trailing behind, a high-spirited man was holding up a boyfriend-wanted advertisement for his "gay" dog.
Staff from the homosexual specialist bookstore Gin Gin (晶晶書屋) showed up in Chinese opera costumes, starting a wave of shutters clicking. The most eye-pleasing group, the Waterboys, a group of homosexual beach enthusiasts, strutted and flexed their tanned biceps and big chests, dressed in just swimming trunks and glamorously plumed party masks. Some 20 marchers wore masks and dressed up as Shizuka, a main character in the well-known Doraemon cartoon series.