Gay and lesbian activists have decried a court verdict against the owner of a Taipei bookstore last week, calling it a setback for the rights of Taiwan's homosexual community.
Lai Jeng-jer (
At a press conference earlier last week, Lai said that he will appeal the verdict and continue to fight for justice.
"Judging from the attitude of Keelung customs officers, prosecutors and the judge during these two years, I am not surprised at the verdict," Lai said. "We [the gay community] believe that there is nothing wrong with the publications."
Gay-rights activists, who have lauded Lai's persistence in maintaining an independent bookstore for gays and lesbians, denounced the verdict as a reflection of the dominance of heterosexual ideology and hatred of the homosexual community.
Chang Hsiao-hung (張小虹), a proponent of women's rights and academic at National Taiwan University (NTU), said that the verdict showed that although Taiwan claims to be an open society which embraces racial and cultural diversity, it is still extremely conservative when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.
Echoing Chang's opinion, Chu Wei-cheng (
"Reading pornography is a common experience shared by homosexuals and heterosexuals," Chu said. "There is no reason to punish only homosexuals for reading or even just thinking about sex. I think we should abolish this ridiculous law."
Chu was referring to Article 235 of the Criminal Code, which Lai was found guilty of violating, and which states, "A person who distributes, sells, publicly displays, or by other means shows to another person indecent writing, drawing, or other [work] shall be punished."
Famous gay writer Hsu You-sheng (
"A bookstore owner who imported the book The Joy of Gay Sex from the United States in 1987 faced the same charge brought by the Canadian Custom officers. The judge found him not guilty," Hsu said. "Comparing the Canada case to this case, Taiwan's efforts to be a country with the respect of human rights is still years behind Western countries."
Josephine Ho (
"The verdict suggests that any sexual desire that come from the gay community is a sin. It is not only a denial of gays' human rights, but also a punishment of the empowerment of sexual desires and freedom to read, which is a serious loss to all of us, either heterosexual or homosexual," Ho said.
Lai was charged by the Keelung District Court in 2003 after Keelung customs officials confiscated more than 200 magazines imported by the bookstore.
Later the same year, the Keelung District prosecutors went to the bookstore and took away more than 500 magazines, including some that are legally published in Hong Kong as well as His, a local publication.
"When the judge asked me, `Why do you read those magazines?' I realized that it is once again a form of discrimination and prejudice against the gay community," Lai said.
"Just like heterosexual men read Playboy and watch porno films, homosexual men have sexual desires and deserve the same right to read pornography," he said. "Those erotic publications may be taken as indecent and criminal, but the magazines are important resources for sexual minorities."
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