Sun, Jul 11, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Taipei: a rising star for gay travelers

With a recent wave of gay Asian tourists flocking to Taipei for holiday, the city is being dubbed the San Francisco of Asia, and the government might do well to take notice

By Elvis Anber  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Steve Chi Leung, a computer consultant in Sydney, flew in on Dec. 30 last year with his boyfriend to spend New Year’s in the capital and take part in a string of massive parties at Luxy and Club Jump over several days. “Many friends from all over the world, mostly Asia, were going there too, so it would be a great time to catch up with them and have fun.”

Other than boasting an indefatigable gay nightlife with an abundance of bars and clubs, Taipei hosts Asia’s largest annual pride parade, which organizers say drew an estimated 25,000 participants in October last year. (Taipei, however, was not the first city to hold a pride parade in Asia. That distinction goes to Manila, which held the region’s first parade back in 1994.)

The political and legal environment has been warming up for some time too. Gay marriage legislation was drafted back in 2003 by the Legislative Yuan, although the bill has failed to budge since. In 2007, the government enacted a law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.

Compared to other Asian countries (and swathes of Europe and the US for that matter), Taiwan has become one of the region’s and world’s most progressive countries regarding gay rights and societal acceptance.

It hasn’t always been so good.

In 2003, Lai’s bookstore was targeted by police for selling gay pornographic content. The owner was later found guilty by a district court for selling “indecent” magazines. In 2004, police raided a sex party, or homepa (home 趴), and forced participants to pose for pictures in little more than their underwear. The images were sensationalized in the local media, leaving gay rights advocates on the defensive.

Even now, hurdles remain. After courting the gay vote in the run-up to his election, President Ma Ying Jeou

(馬英九) has lost the faith of a community that feels both used and ignored. And in March, more than 100 protestors gathered outside Taipei City Hall to demonstrate against a memo from the Ministry of Education calling for the prohibition of gay student groups in primary and secondary schools. Following the outrage by civil activists, the government has promised to include gay topics in textbooks starting from elementary school.

Of course, a plethora of Asian countries are home to vibrant and ever-expanding gay communities. Thailand, long-hailed as a gay paradise, continues to attract travelers the world over, but an ongoing political crisis and a wave of conservative sentiment sweeping the country in recent years (early last year, protestors barred the staging of a pride parade in Chiang Mai) has prompted gay travelers to look elsewhere.

Activists in South Korea and Singapore are up against powerful Christian evangelical figures. Malaysia’s gay community is growing, but it remains largely underground because homosexuality in the Southeast Asian nation is punishable by law. Tokyo and other Japanese cities are home to flourishing gay scenes, but inaction by the nation’s political leaders to better protect the rights of queers has left activists there frustrated. Hong Kong, too, has had its share of disheartening setbacks, despite its relative freedoms and untamed press. And though Shanghai is China’s undisputed gay capital, Asian tourists are not prepared to flock en masse to the mainland for a gay holiday just yet.

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