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Mon, Jun 11, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Homosexuality far from accepted

While the recent high-profile coming out of a high school teacher in Taoyuan might appear to indicate Taiwan's increased tolerance of homosexuality, the incident reveals a culture of non-acceptance in the nation's education system

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sexual orientation is still a tightly guarded secret for many in Taiwan's homosexual community, to be revealed only to fellow homosexuals and trusted friends.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

When Tuan Chien-fa (段建發), a homosexual high school teacher in Taoyuan, became the first teacher to "come out" in Taiwan last week, the response he got suggested an increasing tolerance of homosexuals.

Minister of Education Ovid Tseng (曾志朗) said that Tuan's openness about his homosexuality "would help parents and students to learn respect."

Tuan's school principal remarked that "Tuan is a diligent teacher. We have accepted his coming out without difficulty."

But in reality students and activists say that what occurs behind the scenes at the nation's schools is quite different.

A close friend of Tuan's said the school principal had "apologized on Tuan's behalf to all the teachers on campus" after the story became public. The principle also warned Tuan not to "misguide students on personal manners and values," the friend said.

"Obviously, the school still regards homosexuality as something to be ashamed of," he said.

Self-esteem

Such comments reflect how discrimination against homosexuals is prevalent on most campuses.

"School education is a starting point where we learn about ourselves. It's vital for students to form positive attitudes toward themselves," said Chara (a pseudonym), who is a supervisor at Hotline (同志諮詢熱線), an organization fighting for homosexuals' civil rights.

"Establishing positive self-esteem is especially important for homosexual students, when at every moment of their life they must deal with social pressure against their sexual orientation," she said.

Prejudice against homosexuality is rampant on campuses, including primary schools, high schools and colleges, forcing students to hide or deny their sexual orientation.

"I suffered from fear about my bisexuality and kept it a secret until college," said Isis, a young female professional also using a pseudonym. "I hid myself in the corner because [I believed] nobody on earth could possibly understand me.

"I was taught that homosexuality is abnormal. Not only did I suffer from hiding my affection for those of my gender, I also tried to persuade myself that I was straight and that my love for them was simply friendship."

For Isis, love has been a history of unbearable suppressed feelings.

Tuan said he suffered from a similar identity crisis, and at one time indulged in extensive and risky pleasures because he hoped to get HIV and quickly die from AIDS in order to end the pain of self-denial.

Recently, discussions about comments made by Tang Yi (唐屹), professor of ethnology at National Chengchi University, have been the subject of much controversy.

Tang has been accused of discouraging lesbians from taking his classes.

But the professor refused to comment on the allegations for this report, saying, "There are many things, such as starving people, which deserve more concern."

A former student of Tang's claims the professor said in class that "lesbian students had better find a doctor to treat their abnormality," and that he "would tear down notices for homosexual clubs on campus one by one."

Such outward hostility toward homosexuality is now perhaps uncommon, with homosexual rights now considered "politically correct." But there are still subtle forms of prejudice against gays.

Activists say there are only two universities that have gay and lesbian clubs. Other universities use various excuses to prohibit them, such as claiming that the clubs would fail to attract participation or that there are already too many extracurricular clubs on campus.

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