Mon, Feb 29, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Taipei Watcher: Gold at the end of the rainbow

With an LGBT-friendly president and legislature, Taiwan’s gay community is cautiously optimistic that it will finally achieve the rights denied it for so long

By Eddy Chang  /  Staff reporter

The national campaign headquarters of Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen is illuminated in rainbow colors on Oct. 30 last year, in support of the 13th Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade.

Photo courtesy of Tsai Ing-wen’s national campaign headquarters

When it was announced that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won the presidential election last month, supporters crowded her national campaign headquarters in celebration.

In addition to being elected Taiwan’s first female president, Tsai’s victory is especially significant for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Unlike other candidates and all former presidents, she will be the first Taiwanese president ever to publicly support same-sex marriage.

A NEW PRESIDENT

Tsai’s LGBT-friendly position was summed up last month in a headline by news outlet Quartz: “Taiwan’s new president is a female academic who loves cats and supports gay rights.” Before the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade in Taipei last year, she publicly declared support for marriage equality to boost parade’s visibility and momentum. With her popularity and influence, Tsai should make a positive impact on Taiwan’s gay rights movement.

It would be naive, however, to view Tsai’s victory as a panacea for the LGBT community. In light of the fact that DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), as well as some DPP legislators, has repeatedly blocked a draft bill for marriage equality, it is hardly surprising that the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (日日春關懷互助協會) asked: “Does Tsai really speak for the DPP [on the issue]?”

Tsai has also been called “water spinach” ( 空心菜, kongxincai), a hollow-stemmed vegetable, for failing to propose substantial policy ideas (“Tsai” is homophonous with cai, 菜, vegetable). Though the transition of executive power doesn’t take place until May, she has yet to propose any concrete LGBT policies, so the gay community should not soley rely on her support.

A NEW PARTY

The legislative election was held on the same day as the presidential election. The emergence of the Faith and Hope League (信心希望聯盟, FHL) party reveals how contentious marriage equality remains in Taiwan. Unlike other parties, the FHL ran on a conservative platform that specifically targeted LGBT rights.

The party was established in September of last year for the purpose of building a “Christian political platform.” But the eight legislative candidates it nominated failed to gain any seats, receiving 1.7 percent of the vote — a low figure, but suggests that there is still significance opposition to the idea.

During its campaign, the FHL pledged to protect “traditional family values” by pushing for a referendum against the legalization of same-sex marriage. With the help of Christian teachers, it controversially distributed petitions to elementary and secondary school students, who were told to have their parents sign the forms.

For example, the student bulletin of National Taichung Girls’ Senior High School (台中女中) reported last month that members of the FHL were distributing petitions at the school’s sports games, warning students not to be brainwashed by LGBT people.

“Taiwan is a free and democratic society, and Taiwanese enjoy the freedom of expression and the right to participate in politics through referenda,” the bulletin stated. “But it is outrageous when the right is misused to oppress others,” raising the question of who is being oppressed?

A NEW LEGISLATURE

In another sign that there is still much that needs to be done for LGBT rights, 12 legislators, including Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟), a former Judiciary Committee convener who said that homosexuals are “scary” and that legalizing same-sex marriage is encouraging “bestiality,” stood for the election. Although they failed to be nominated or reelected, they are still on the political scene.

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