On Nov. 30, tens of thousands of protesters brought a highly contentious issue out of the closet and into the public domain. They called on the government to oppose proposals that would in effect make same-sex unions in Taiwan legal, claiming that doing so would undermine traditional family values.
Amid this strong opposition, first-time documentary filmmaker Shane Hsiung (熊怡婷) documents what it means to be gay and Christian in The Pink Elephant (粉紅色大象), an interview-driven film based on discussions with people in her church group.
Hsiung has been going to the same church in Taipei for more than a year, attending Sunday services and group gatherings regularly.
“Even though the minister of my church opposes same-sex marriage, this is a tolerant church where we feel accepted,” Hsiung said.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Hsiung decided to film The Pink Elephant after signing up for a workshop on documentary film.
“I know how I feel about being a lesbian and a Christian. I am curious about how others feel, about how they find peace and balance in Christianity,” she said.
The documentary has Hsiung’s church group discuss their faith, sexuality and emotional struggles in relationships.
Meanwhile, their group leader discusses the dilemmas she encounters leading them.
Other people in the 23-minute film include Hsiung’s girlfriend, who she took to attend the group meetings, and the group leader’s sister, who is a lesbian but not a Christian.
Hsiung says she felt encouraged to film the documentary because of the leader of her church group, a full-time housewife and a volunteer at the church.
“She doesn’t judge us,” said Hsiung, adding that talking about what it means to be a lesbian and Christian only became possible in the group.
While other churches discourage homosexuals from joining, Hsiung says hers doesn’t.
“Someone in the group once said that if it were not for our group leader, she would have left the church. A lot of us share that thought,” she said.
Hsiung said she had planned to interview the church’s minister, who is aware of the group and what they discuss, but later backed out over fears of a public backlash. The church’s name doesn’t appear in this article or the film to protect the identity of the group members.
Hsiung says the minister’s rejection doesn’t affect her film because she believes it examines something beyond “gays fighting for their own rights” or “gay Christians pressured by the church,” which for her are conventional issues.
Even though the church opposes same-sex unions, Hsiung believes her faith lies in God, not the minister or church. Asked why she bothers to go to the church at all, she says it is a habit that she developed to nurture her faith.
ROAD TO FAITH
Hsiung’s church group meets once a week to study the Bible, discuss personal and life issues and pray. More than half of the 10 members are lesbians.
Hsiung hasn’t always been a Christian. She began attending services because she was attracted to a church member surnamed Lee (whose name has been changed to protect her identity). Through Sunday services and group gatherings, Hsiung started reading the Bible. When the church encouraged her to be baptized, she had one question in mind: Does God love homosexuals?
The night before the baptism, Hsiung called Lee to express her concerns.
“I told her that I wouldn’t start loving men after my baptism. It is just not possible,” Hsiung said.
Not knowing how to reply, Lee sought council from a church elder, who said intimate relations with members of the same sex are forbidden.
“That answer made no sense to me,” Hsiung said.
She went through with the baptism, however, because Lee convinced her that God loves everyone unconditionally. She later left the church to worship at the current church where the documentary was filmed.
When asked why she didn’t join the gay-friendly Tong-Kwang Light House Presbyterian Church (同光同志長老教會), Hsiung said she looked into it before but remains satisfied with her current church.
“I think identity, faith and emotional struggles are what we all share as a human being. Christians are a minority [in Taiwan], and so are homosexuals. I don’t want my film to only resonate with them,” Hsiung said.
For more details visit www.facebook.com/thehappinessproject.tw, or call Miss Chen, tel: 0935-094-369, for screening times.