January 2, 2004
Gay Harassment Rampant In Taiwan Study Shows
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff Taipei
Thirty-six percent of Taiwan’s gays have been harassed or discriminated against because of their sexuality, according to a new survey by the Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Association.
The association polled nearly 2,000 people, and while 36 percent who identified as being gay or bisexual said they had been harassed, 60 percent said they had witnessed others being harassed. In addition, thirteen percent of heterosexuals said they had been harassed because they had been misidentified as homosexual. The survey showed that the majority of harassment cases occurred on university campuses, but almost as many cases were perpetrated by family members.
A quarter of the cases occurred in the workplace. "Teenage homosexuals usually lead a painful life because their sexual preference is not permitted and they question their existence. They are being shunned as early as puberty," said Wang Ping, secretary-general of the Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Rights Association. "We want the rights to privacy, media, education, work, politics and civil rights to be better protected," said Chan Ming-chou a Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Association board member.
Chan said that the state-owned Public Television Service should reserve a certain amount of time for gay-related programs. Chan also suggested that the junior high school health education textbook include a chapter on sexual orientation. The government should also reserve a proportion of legislative seats for representatives of the LGBT community, Chan said.
January 14, 2004
Bookstore wants gay judge for porn case
by Debby Wu, Staff Reporter
The gay bookshop Gin Gin’s yesterday filed a petition to get a homosexual judge to preside over a case brought against it for selling erotic gay magazines. The police went to Gin Gin’s on Aug. 25 last year and took away more than 500 erotic gay magazines.
The confiscated magazines included some that are legally published in Hong Kong and His, a Taiwanese magazine. Gin Gin’s proprietor Lai Jeng-jer has been charged with offences against morals and the prosecutor has asked for a simplified judgment. A simplified judgment is proposed by the prosecutor when the accused has committed only a minor crime but there is already sufficient evidence to convict the offender. "Magazines like His have been on sale in Eslite, and when Gin Gin’s have these magazines on display, the magazines are always wrapped and marked with clear warning signs on the front. Our customers all know very clearly about the erotic contents of the magazines before they pay up," Lai said.
Lai pointed out that many erotic heterosexual magazines had more provocative content than the confiscated gay magazines, and he said that when police wanted to crack down on "indecent" publications, they should not treat homosexual ones differently from heterosexual ones. Lai yesterday also filed a petition to the court to have a homosexual judge preside over the trial and to invite 100 homosexuals to review the magazines to consider whether the contents are indecent.
"Taiwan is a place where people don’t know very much about homosexuals and where there is considerable discrimination against homosexuals, so to get a fair trial, I would like to ask heterosexual judges to avoid the case," Lai said. "The definition of indecency may vary from person to person, and a homosexual male’s perception of indecency cannot be arbitrated by a heterosexual male, so we would like to have 100 homosexual males to review the magazines and see if they consider the content indecent."
January 23, 2004
Treatment of homosexual men caught at party outrages gay rights activists
Taipei (AFP) – Television footage of nearly 100 homosexual men dressed in their underpants and hiding their faces after a police raid has triggered a storm of controversy over the rights of gay people with HIV. The saga has outraged gay rights and AIDS awareness groups who have criticized the media’s role and say it shows lingering anti-gay sentiment in Taiwan, which is working towards becoming the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriages. The pictures were first broadcast by major news networks last week after police said they showed a weekend raid on a drug and sex orgy.
They were rebroadcast again and again after blood tests ordered by authorities found that 28 of the 92 men had HIV, which causes AIDS. Then neighbors of the men were shown saying they were so scared of being infected with HIV that they had disinfected their homes, and police officers who had questioned the men said they had cleaned their seats immediately afterwards. The episode shows that homosexuality is stigmatized in Taiwan as synonymous with AIDS, Gender-Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan spokeswoman Wang Ping said. Ironically the discovery in the raid of condoms, an important protection against AIDS, has become evidence of their "crime" in this case, Wang said.
Hundreds of used condoms were found, but health authorities have insisted the men were engaging in "dangerous sexual behavior" under the influence of drugs. They have said they would recommend the prosecution of 14 of the HIV-positive men for knowingly spreading the disease to others.
People convicted of this offence can be jailed for up to seven years under an anti-AIDS law which also empowers authorities to order blood tests on high-risk groups, including the sexual partners of HIV carriers and drug users. "While paying concern to the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, we also want to urge people to cherish their own lives and respect others,’" said Department of Health Director Chen Chien-jen.
But Wang said: "The case has caused panic in local society through the media coverage. But the government has failed to give the public the correct information on the disease, which does not transmit through mere physical contacts." Taiwan has a low rate of HIV/AIDS infection compared with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with just over 5,000 people infected since 1984 out of a population of 23 million, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It says 911 people have died from AIDS. Activists say the implementation of the anti-AIDS law could violate the rights of homosexuals and HIV patients, as shown by the weekend raid, and discourage people from testing themselves for HIV/AIDS. This was shown to be true when the Department of Health breached the privacy of the men who tested positive for HIV by leaking their personal information to police, said Ivory Lin, secretary general of a group called Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan.
"A gay friend e-mailed me today saying he had given up on a plan to go for a blood test after the incident," Lin said. "The men should at least have been allowed to put on their clothes before police exposed them to cameras," Lin said. Activists said that while the incident may have alerted the public to the large number of HIV carriers among homosexuals, it did not tell the whole story – that heterosexual couples are not any safer from infection than their gay counterparts.
Of Taiwan’s 5,221 HIV/AIDS patients, 2,080 were infected through heterosexual contact, 1,896 of them homosexual and 622 bisexual, according to CDC data. "People almost forgot the heterosexual community would expose themselves to the same risk unless practising safe-sex," said Wu Hsu-liang, a spokesman for the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association that promotes gay rights. The incident perhaps shows that the majority of Taiwanese are not ready to fully accept homosexuals, even as the cabinet is drafting a bill which will allow gay marriages and grant gay couples the right to adopt children, said Wu.
"The way the news was handled was typical of a discriminatory, voyeuristic mentality, designed to send viewers the message, ‘Yuck! it’s disgusting. Everybody come have a look!’" he said.
February 5, 2004
In Taiwan, not much ado over gays saying ‘I do’
by Paul Wiseman, Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan is expected this year to become the first country in Asia to legalize some form of gay marriage. The push for same-sex unions – a sensitive issue in the USA, where most states have enacted laws defining marriage as a union of a man and woman – has stirred little political opposition here. The lack of controversy is surprising in a conservative Chinese society where most gay men and lesbians stay in the closet to avoid upsetting their parents. Last year, the government of President Chen Shui-bian included a provision allowing gay couples to "found a family and adopt children" in a broader human rights law that also calls for the gradual abolition of capital punishment.
The legislation is designed to strengthen Taiwan’s democratic and human rights credentials 17 years after the end of military rule. It also is meant to give the island a public-relations boost by sharpening the contrast with its repressive communist rival, China. Gay and lesbian groups are disappointed that the legislation doesn’t specifically use the word "marriage" to describe the new rights. They also are frustrated that the bill hasn’t moved beyond a draft completed last fall. But political observers in Taiwan’s capital attribute the slowdown to legislative gridlock and the press of a presidential election set for March 20, not to serious political opposition.
"Eventually, after the general election – no matter who wins – gay marriage will be OK’d," predicts Shen Fu-hsiung, a legislator with Chen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party. The legislation would provide practical benefits to gay partners, says human rights lawyer Kenneth Chiu, who helped draft the bill. As couples, they could pay lower tax rates. One partner’s insurance could cover the other. Gay men and lesbians – who go by the Chinese nickname "tongzhi," or "comrade" – are flexing their muscle politically. They recently forced a ruling party lawmaker to apologize after he asserted that legalizing gay marriage risked "pushing the nation to its doom" because gay and lesbian couples couldn’t reproduce. Increasingly, politicians are courting gay rights groups. The island’s most popular opposition politician, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, attended Taiwan’s first gay-pride parade in November and boasted that his city administration has provided financial support to an annual gay carnival.
Gay marriage generates far more political heat in the USA than it does in Taiwan. A Massachusetts supreme court ruling that cleared the way for gay marriage in that state in November has energized supporters of a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. President Bush has said he would support such an amendment, if necessary. Unlike in the USA, where Christian conservatives are a political force, Taiwan has little organized religious opposition to gay rights. "Taiwan doesn’t have religious baggage," says Tim Ting, chief consultant at Gallup Market Research Corp., Taiwan. "Chinese are very practical people. They will pray to any god who helps them win the lottery." There is little or no "gay-bashing" in Taiwan, where violent crime of any type is less common than in the USA. Even so, it’s tough to be gay here.
The gay bar Funky in central Taipei gets raided by police two or three times a year, says Jerry Lai, who opened the basement bar 13 years ago. Police officers sometimes barge in on jam-packed Saturday nights, turn on the lights and start questioning patrons. "I complained to the mayor and to the city government, but they can’t do much," Lai says. Taiwan does not have laws banning homosexuality; Lai says the raids are meant only to harass his patrons. Some gay bars have reputations, however, as havens for drug dealers and as places that permit open sexual activity.
Most pressure on Taiwan’s gay men and lesbians comes from their families. Parents want their children to marry and produce grandkids. And some are just uncomfortable with homosexuality, viewing it as abnormal. "Some families play a game, a no-tell policy: ‘You don’t tell, and I won’t ask.’ Parents are afraid of finding out," says Ni Chia-chen, a spokeswoman for the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association, Taiwan. As a result of family pressure, around 75% of Taiwan’s gay men and lesbians stay in the closet, estimates gay writer Shu Yu-shen. Many of those who participated in November’s gay-pride parade wore masks. Tsai Juang-huan, 31, is getting an MBA at the University of Arizona in Tucson. At school in the USA, he is openly gay. And he is unembarrassed to shop in Gin Gin’s gay bookstore in a bohemian, university neighborhood of Taipei. But Tsai is afraid to come out to his parents. "I’m afraid they would cut the relationship with me," he says. "I would prefer to stay in Tucson, where coming out is not an issue."
But being gay is slowly becoming more acceptable here. The gay rights movement got a big boost from the 1993 movie The Wedding Banquet by acclaimed Taiwanese director Ang Lee (who later made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Hulk). The comedy is about a gay Taiwanese man living in Manhattan who arranges a marriage of convenience with a Chinese woman to satisfy his parents. Inspired by the movie, writer Shu, 43, and his companion Gray Harriman, a Uruguayan citizen who lives in the USA, held an elaborate wedding banquet of their own in Taipei in 1996. If the marriage law passes, Shu says, he and Harriman will tie the knot again officially – something that would "make our marriage complete."
February 8, 2004
Taiwan promises gay marriages. Few here oppose rights including same-sex unions.
Island’s tolerance rooted in cultural, political realities
by Martin Regg Cohn
Taipei – When Taiwanese novelist Shu Yu-Shen proposed marriage to his gay lover in 1996, he invited 600 guests to celebrate their public wedding vows. The only ingredient missing from his lavish banquet: a marriage licence. "Even though there was no licence and it wasn’t legal, I still wanted this symbolic ceremony," Shu recalls. "The most important thing is not a licence, it’s the feeling."
Seven years later, Shu has changed his mind: He wants to make it official. Until recently, Taiwanese gays could only cast envious glances at Canadian court rulings that have paved the way for homosexual unions. But Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has publicly pledged to legalize gay marriage and his government followed up in November with proposed legislation that would let gays "found a family and adopt children." There is still much uncertainty in this election year about whether gays will win full legal equality with heterosexual couples in Taiwan’s parliament.
But few doubt that Taiwan is fast becoming the most gay-friendly place in Asia. "At least they’re offering this promise so that it educates the whole of society," says the soft-spoken Shu, 43, who is also an expert on human sexuality. "Then, they can test the (public) reaction, which is okay." Even with Taiwan’s bitterly contested presidential election campaign in full swing, the gay-rights proposals have attracted little attention. The only ripple of protest came late last year when Dr. Ho Shui-sheng, a lawmaker from the governing Democratic Progressive Party, claimed the legislation was "pushing the nation to its doom" because gay couples cannot procreate. The DPP quickly forced Ho to publicly retract his remarks and it has been smooth sailing ever since.
The explanation for why Taiwan seems to be an island of tolerance in a sea of Asian homophobia lies in a unique combination of history and geography for this nation that Beijing still treats as a breakaway province. A major motive is geopolitical one-upmanship in the diplomatic competition with mainland China, where homosexuality is still technically illegal and was until recently classified as a mental illness. The move also reflects Chen’s desire to undo decades of martial law, which banned illegal assembly and gave police arbitrary powers to round up gays loitering in public parks.
Even today, local police are prone to raid gay bars every few months and the media recently aired footage of homosexuals being led away in their underwear from an alleged orgy. And the police are not alone in their prejudices. Gay culture in Taiwan still seems stunted by Western standards, in part because of strong societal disapproval.
Despite a tradition of homoeroticism in Chinese art and opera, the vast majority of gays and lesbians here remain in the closet for fear of scandalizing co-workers or rupturing relationships with their parents. At a gay pride parade in the capital last November – sponsored by Taipei’s city government and hailed by Mayor Ma Ying-jeou as the first in the Chinese world – hundreds of participants wore masks to conceal their identities. "Wearing masks is a very clear indication that social acceptance for sexual minorities still has a long way to go," says Ni Chia-chen of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association. Coming out of the closet can be costly in terms of personal and professional ties, Ni explains. "Here, people will ignore you; they won’t admit you exist. When you openly come out, there are harsh attitudes – it’s a disgrace for the household."
One of the few places where gays can let their hair down is Gin Gin’s bookshop, where a large billboard of an Adonis-like male sets it apart from the nearby churches and residential buildings of a quiet Taipei neighbourhood. Browsing through the male pictorial magazines, Arthur Tsai remarks that the risqué photos are little different from what he can find at the campus of the university he attends in America. But there is a difference: In the United States, he long ago came out; back home in Taiwan, he remains firmly in the closet. "My family still doesn’t know and it’s become an issue for me," says Tsai, 31. "Here, parents are more conservative. They will kick you out of the family."
The paradox is that Taiwanese society is generally tolerant, or at least indifferent, to homosexuality at large; but when it comes to individual cases and family members, parents are afraid of losing face with their neighbours. "My parents are anti-gay," says Tsai. "I’m afraid they will cut off the relationship with me." Gin Gin’s owner, Lai Cheng-Che, says such family pressures are deeply ingrained among parents who want to become grandparents. Taiwanese gays feel pressured to participate in sham marriages with members of the opposite sex to bear children and keep up appearances. "It’s part of Chinese culture because you need to carry on the family tree – and once you become gay, the tree dies," Lai says.
The social isolation of gays motivated him to found the bookshop in 1999 after graduating from architecture school. He wanted to create a space where gays could meet without loitering in parks or hanging out in sleazy bars. Customs inspectors still occasionally censor the foreign books and magazines he imports, but the police now take a hands-off attitude. Neighbors who used to drop eggs onto his shop from upper balconies are more accepting. Indeed, Lai has expanded the bookstore to include a small luncheonette and a shop selling sex toys, including "anatomically correct" dolls like Carlos, "The World’s First Out and Proud Boyfriend."
Flanked by a statue of Buddha as he leans on the cash register, Lai says his early enthusiasm about the government’s announcement has been tempered by a close reading of the draft legislation. He worries it may not explicitly guarantee gay rights and that the president "is just jumping on the bandwagon of Canada." Still, he believes the draft is "better than nothing." Human rights lawyer Kenneth Chiu, who sat on the president’s consultation panel, remains confident that gay rights ultimately will be entrenched and supersede outdated laws. The final draft uses cautious language, but he is confident it will win broad support and become law this year.
"More than we can imagine, people are happy," Chiu says. After a decade of lobbying for gay rights, he argues that Taiwanese are relatively liberal about sexual questions despite their outward conservatism. He points out that the island has a "lively sex industry," in which hairdressers often front for brothels, hotels rent rooms by the hour and women sell betel nuts – a mild stimulant – at roadside stalls where the least amount of clothing attracts the greatest clientele.
Pollster Tim Tung, who heads Gallup Market Research Corporation of Taiwan, explains that the Chinese are not especially religious and don’t feel bound by scriptural prohibitions on homosexuality. He points out that abortion is also a non-issue among most Chinese. "Chinese are very practical religious people – they pray to any God to win the lottery," he quips. "In Taiwan, most people don’t care because they don’t have religious baggage."
Yet religious symbols are often displayed prominently at gay meeting places to convey a sense of legitimacy. At Funky’s nightclub in downtown Taipei, Buddhist prayer flags are strung across the doorway alongside a rainbow ribbon that identifies it as one of about 20 gay bars in town. The stairs lead down to a basement dance floor where up to 400 patrons dance up a storm on Saturday nights beneath the glittering disco ball. But the customers are so clean-cut, and the atmosphere so polite, that police have a hard time hassling the nightclub, says manager Ching Li-Chang. Posters warn of the risk of AIDS and a prominent notice declares: "Drugs and Dopes (sic) Strictly Prohibited."
Instead of the scent of marijuana, a visitor is struck by the strong aroma of popcorn wafting across the dance floor. The tolerance of Taiwanese society at large can be explained by the island geography that exposed it to foreign influences, argues Shu, whose semi-autobiographical 1995 novel, Male Male Marriage, cemented his reputation. "Taiwan is an island country, so our culture has been influenced from many different directions," such as the Dutch, Japanese and mainland Chinese. The most recent contribution from the mainland is the usage of the word tongzhi – literally, "comrade" – as the slang term for gays. Despite the obvious irony of using a communist form of address in staunchly capitalist Taiwan, Shu says tongzhi quickly took root. "People feel that it’s so right, so comfortable, so symbolic when you say tongzhi, the idea of being together and following the same direction."
May 21, 2004
Taiwan TV hostess says she’s transgender
by PlanetOut Network
A popular TV personality in Taiwan known "Queen of Auction" disclosed on Wednesday that she is transgender.
Liching, who was born Wu Chung-ming in Chingshui in 1962, said she had sex reassignment surgery at the age of 22, according to the China Post. She started her career as a singer and later worked as a model after a traffic accident resulted in the loss of her "sweet voice," the newspaper reported.
According to her agent, Liching became a star and top seller on the Eastern TV Auction Channel because of her husky voice. Her sales records include 100,000 pairs of underwear in one hour and 700 notebook PCs in 85 minutes.
2 May 2004
Taiwan’s 1st gay minister
Taipei – A Presbyterian priest became Taiwan’s first openly gay Christian minister at a ceremony on Sunday, news reports said.
Tseng Shu-min was ordained a minister in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. "We should give him blessings and encouragement," ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) parliamentarian Hsiao Bi-khim told reporters before she participated in the ceremony. "Hopefully basic human rights would be respected here in Taiwan." No officials of the church were immediately available for comment.
Domestic gay groups welcomed the event, which Chan Ming-chou from the Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Association described as a "milestone" in the improvement of human rights on the island. "After efforts for so many years, now local gays affiliated with the Christian church can have their own priest," Chan told AFP. "Either from religion’s or domestic gay activity’s point of view, it is of significance." The DPP government has been pressing for the enactment of a Human Rights Basic Law which enshrines the right of homosexual couples to adopt children, among other provisions, including abolishing the death penalty.
May 2, 2004
Gay groups prepare for their big Gay and Lesbian Awakening Day
by Caroline Hong, Staff Reporter
Gay and lesbian college groups announced plans for activities celebrating Gay and Lesbian Awakening Day (GLAD) during a press conference yesterday at Taipei’s National Taiwan University (NTU).
This is the ninth year of GLAD, which was begun in 1994 by NTU gay and lesbian social groups Lambda and GayChat. Although GLAD began as a day of recognition held on June 1, it has evolved into a series of social awareness and recognition events held over the course of each May and June at various universities throughout northern Taiwan, GayChat representatives said.
This year’s GLAD is sponsored by thirteen homosexual social and educational college groups.
"We used the acronym GLAD because the meaning of ‘glad’ reflects our attitude in planning this event. Through these events, we hope to provoke others to consider their definitions of identity," said Chang Hsiao-hung, a professor at NTU’s department of foreign languages and literature. Chang is also the founding adviser of Lambda, a NTU lesbian social and educational group. Gay and lesbian acceptance in Taiwan is limited, students said.
"In places like the United States and northern Europe, gays and lesbians are able to be much more open than in Taiwan," said Kao Yi-chao, a graduate student at NTU’s sociology department. "2003 and 2004 has been a period of time when many events have hurt the gay and lesbian community," Kao said, referring to instances such as this January’s police raid on a homosexual party in Taipei and the confiscation of gay magazines from the bookshop Gin Gin’s last year.
"We want to let the public know about our rights as homosexuals and increase discussion," he said. The students also called on the government to push through the protection of human rights basic law, saying that if the Democratic Progressive Party gains a majority in the year-end legislative elections there can be no more excuses.
The act allows gays and lesbians to organize families and adopt children. It is still under discussion in the Legislative Yuan. This year’s GLAD events include a mini-film festival featuring the 2003 Hong Kong film Let’s Love, the German movie The Einstein of Sex, 2001’s Corner’s, new movie Splendid Float by local director Zero Chou, and Canadian movie Better than Chocolate. Other events include a discussion forum, literary and artistic _expression competition and a dance. To learn more about GLAD, see its Chinese Web site at http://home.kimo.com.tw/glad9th or e-mail email@example.com.
June 18, 2004
Where Pride Is Invisible–Taiwanese Lesbian Activists Talk About a Tall Agenda
by Paul Schindler
In the island republic of Taiwan, the military two years ago issued an official statement saying it would not discriminate against gay servicemembers, a development that the Santa Barbara-based, University of California-affiliated Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, suggested was “a bold step for an Asian military force.”
In September 2000, the nation’s president, Chen Shui-bian, who earlier that year was the first elected “opposition” leader in the republic’s half-century history, met with lesbian and gay groups and committed his government to three key rights for queer Taiwanese – to safety, education, and workplace nondiscrimination – as well as a promise of “the president taking the lead to set an example of respect for gays.”
The Chen government (Chinese surnames come first), which won narrow reelection in May, is currently considering legislation that would allow gay and lesbian couples to “found a family and adopt children,” according to reporting by USA Today.
From the cultural vantage point of the gay rights movement in the U.S., all of this would represent heartening progress, even if it falls short of complete equality.
Yet according to four lesbians associated with the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan (G/SRAT), in New York earlier this month, those indicators are illusory, even disingenuous, and the struggle for queer equality on the island has a long way to go.
“Invisibility is a real situation and a quandary,” said Wang Ping, G/SRAT’s founder and secretary general. “A lot has to do with cultural and historical reasons – the family system and how it is central to society.”
According to Wang and her colleagues, the role of families in Taiwanese life poses a fundamental barrier to equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) – it almost universally prevents queer people from coming out in the sense that the term is understood in Western societies.
“Life can be experienced individually but there is still a sense that family face and family name are taken as very strong basic units, as opposed to the way it is in Western cultures,” she explained. “We do have a sense of responsibility for allegiance to family name and family face. The family will still be held responsible for what you do.”
Wang and her colleagues – Ni Chia-Chen, who works on international liaison and youth and HIV issues for G/SRAT; Ding Nai-Fei, a feminist scholar affiliated with the Center for the Study of Sexualities at Taipei’s National Central University and the author of “Obscene Things: Sexual Politics in Jin Ping Mei” (Duke University Press); and Chen Yu-Rong, director of the Internet-based LGBT News Agency in Taiwan – were in New York to accept the annual Felipa de Souza Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). In the awards ceremony held in Manhattan on June 7 and repeated later in the week in San Francisco, IGLHRC praised G/SRAT for being “the primary public voice of the LGBT community in Taiwan for many years.”
Interview: The four activists sat down with Gay City News on June 8.
Having introduced the issues of family, coming out, and invisibility at the outset of the interview, the four women struggled throughout the session to find the best way to convey in English the specific meaning of these issues in the lives of gay and lesbian Taiwanese, an effort that occasioned extended conversations among Wang and her colleagues in Chinese. Ding did most of the English translation.
Toward the interview’s conclusion, Ding offered further clarification about how families influence gay visibility in Taiwan.
“Coming out is not social. It is typically done just among an intimate circle of family and friends,” she explained. “Parents do not come out with their children. It does not include members of the extended family. A more general social coming out is very rare.”
Ding hastened to add that coming out, at least in the limited way in which she and her colleagues were discussing it, was becoming more common among Taiwanese in their 20s and younger.
The comments by Ding and Wang, taken at face value, are difficult to reconcile with the evolution of public discourse about gay rights in Taiwan. How can the group explain the seeming contradictions?
“In politics, there is a kind of tolerance and progressive rhetoric,” Ding explained, on behalf of the group. “There is a kind of liberation that stops at the door of the family. The attitude is, ‘We can tolerate this in our society.’ But once it is in our family, it brings shame, a kind of marking.” Thus, in a society in which political discourse at the highest levels reflects gay positivity, the intimate, familial forces in the lives of queer individuals shove in precisely the opposite direction.
The group also pointed to the impact of Taiwan’s underlying political culture in explaining what they described as the LGBT community’s weak standing in society. Pres. Chen’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), wandered in the political wilderness through much of Taiwan’s history. Though it grew up with what the lesbian activists termed “progressive roots,” the DPP also had to practice opposition politics in a harsh climate that included for many years martial law. As a result, Ding explained, there is no tradition of aggressive opposition politics in Taiwan and there is a deep legacy of “apoliticalness, even political apathy.”
“Oppositional politics already creates a stigma,” she said. “For the lesbian and gay community, now there is an additional stigma. That is changing somewhat in the younger generation.” As with the issue of family, the activists talked back and forth extensively to find an appropriate way to explain the disconnect between political discourse and private lives. “Political freedom is entirely in the sense of party politics,” Ding said. “This rhetoric of liberation is very much a kind of gesture. Political leaders do not really understand what it needs to do especially in regard to sexuality and gender.”
When pressed on the question of what they believe the government “needs to do,” the lesbian activists cited a wide array of problems facing the queer community and others in Taiwan. Gay men’s bars, sex clubs, gyms, and other gathering places have often been raided by police in recent years. In a number of cases, patrons complained that they faced humiliation, sometimes of a sexual nature, from the authorities. When sexual activity is discovered during such raids, the media present sensationalized accounts that have emphasized the risk of HIV transmission. Early this year, a well-publicized raid on what authorities said was a gay sex party led neighbors of the establishment to disinfect their homes as some reporting suggested that AIDS could be contracted by casual contact. The opportunity to present salacious TV news reports has led some media outlets to send photographers with hidden cameras into gay and lesbian clubs.
Ding, Wang, and their colleagues also talked about the limits on free _expression in the Taiwanese media. Though the government does not proactively censor any printed or broadcast materials, all media outlets must register with the government and regulators will inspect any materials about which any citizen comes forward with complaints. Before working with an Internet news service, Chen Yu-Rong was the editor of G & L magazine. On several occasions – once for male nudity, but on other occasions simply for unacceptable text – the magazine was required to recall its print run. The activists also cited the recent example of the government fining a radio program that discussed safe-sex techniques for lesbians. Censorship also emerges from the streets. Taipei’s lesbian and gay bookstore has repeatedly had its windows broken and inventory vandalized.
Chen explained that constraints on free expression are particularly stringent when it comes to material that children can access. She said that pressure comes into play on sex education materials in schools, and on content on the Internet and on television. Conservative women’s groups, reflecting what the G/SRAT activists termed “state feminism,” demand such information controls in the name of “children’s welfare.”
When it was suggested that much the same kind of pressure exists in the U.S., Chen responded, “The crucial difference from the U.S. is that in the U.S. at least there are protective measures for children. In Taiwan, the concern manifests as a very invasive policy based on the fear of making resources available to children. There is a very active effort to put children into a protective cone.”
The effort on children’s issues reflects a broader anti-sex drive gaining momentum in Taiwanese society, according to G/SRAT. Ding said the movement was based among Christian groups, but also included some Buddhist factions as well. “The women make use of child welfare rhetoric to further old and regressive conservative forces,” she said.
G/SRAT attempts to counter the conservative forces not only by standing up for gay male sexuality and freedom of speech, but also by advocating on behalf of the rights and welfare of Taiwan’s numerous sex workers. The group also attempts to forge a debate on two issues typically ignored in public dialogue – abortion and artificial insemination. Women can access abortion only in cases of medical need, and even then only with the approval or their husband, or if they are minors, their parents. Artificial insemination, which conservative forces are trying to outlaw altogether, is only available to married women, effectively barring women who live openly as lesbians.
Beyond this array of social problems G/SRAT has on its agenda, the activists have one basic complaint with the current government – even in those areas where the DPP leadership claims progress, the gains are not genuine. The military is a prime example. Service is compulsory for all men, so in their view the claim that the military does not discriminate against gays is a way of enforcing universal duty. Ding said that gay men dare not come out in the military for fear of harassment and even physical assault. She said her group works with men unwilling to face the potential for abuse by working with psychiatrists to fashion disqualifying excuses for them. Still, such a course has risks. “Not serving will mark a young man,” Ding said.
But, she added, there are deeper problems with the Taiwanese military than homophobia. “The military, even up until now, is a holdover from the old regime,” Ding said. “It is the deep bedrock of the conservatism of masculinity. Anti-gay abuse is only a small part of the human rights abuses of the military.” The G/SRAT activists also dismissed the talk of legislation providing for gay and lesbian families. The language under consideration provides that such families can be formed “in accordance with the law,” but, the activists argued, there is no such law on which such rights can rest.
“It is an empty law,” Ding said. Similarly, despite the president’s 2000 promise, there has been no action on workplace discrimination and very few queer Taiwanese are out on the job. The G/SRAT activists suggested that much of the liberation rhetoric is aimed at a foreign audience, particularly in Europe and North America. They seemed to bristle at the suggestion that Taiwan’s military had made strides in equal treatment of its gay soldiers. And, referring to a recent suggestion by Pres. Chen that the family legislation working through the legislature could pave the way for gay marriage, Ding said, “Marriage only comes up with international reporters.”
March 31, 2005
Demand Taiwan’s Court Open Up Its Doors in Gay Bookstore Obscenity Trial
Taiwan’s only gay and lesbian bookstore has been unreasonably charged with obscenity and is currently under trial behind closed doors. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) urges you to join the Gender Sexuality Rights Association, Taiwan (G/SRAT) in their urgent plea for support and solidarity by sending letters to the court to open the trial to the public and advocate for the human rights of freedom of expression for all citizens of Taiwan.
Demand Taiwan’s Court to Open Up Its Doors in Gay Bookstore Obscenity Trial
Right to Freedom from Discrimination
Right to be Equal before the Law
Right to a Fair and Public Hearing
Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
According to G/SRAT, Taiwan’s only gay bookstore, Gin Gin Gay Bookstore, and its owner Lai, J.J., were charged with obscenity after Gin Gin’s regular shipment of 200 copies of legally imported male body magazines from Hong Kong was seized at the Keelung dock in March 2003, and police raided Gin Gin and confiscated more than 500 copies of similar publications in August of the same year. At the moment of the raids, the journals had abided by all ordinances regarding adult publications: Not only did the journals bear warning signs regarding its adult content but also had plastic wrappings to prevent accidental viewing by minors. Signs were also posted all around the bookstore warning customers not to tamper with the wrapping.
The Keelung District Court then charged Gin Gin’s owner Lai under Criminal Code Article 235 for the dissemination/distribution of obscenities. When Lai went to court in June 2004, lesbian and gay groups rallied in support but were blocked from simply entering the court building. Behind closed doors and despite contestation by Lai’s attorney, the court found that the confiscated journals must be sent for review by a notorious censorship NGO that has been known to persecute sex radicals. The review opinion came back recently: As this NGO considered even pictures of erect penises as “unnatural,” it deemed most of the copies seized as “obscene,” subject to a prison sentence of two years and a fine of US$30,000.
At the second court appearance in March 2005, gay activists and gender/sexuality activists who went to court to hear the case were subjected to thorough searches. Despite this, they were again blocked outside the courtroom. Inside, Gin Gin’s owner Lai valiantly rebutted the review opinions point by point and educated the court about gay culture and gay images. The court will meet again on 19 April 2005 to hear Lai’s final argument before delivering the final ruling.
G/SRAT contends that the case is built on discriminatory assumptions and represents a blatant example of homophobic persecution. The court has consistently closed its doors to anyone other than Lai and his attorney. G/SRAT and sexual rights activists in Taiwan are in dire need of international support to apply pressure to public opinion so as to prevent this case from being silently sacrificed behind closed doors.
Please address your letter of support to:
THE TAIWAN KEELUNG DISTRICT COURT at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please send a copy of the email (subject: We Support Gin Gin
Bookstore) to G/SRAT at email@example.com and Lai J.J., owner of Gin Gin
Bookstore, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 01, 2005
Revision of the gender law proposed:Two DPP legislators are calling for an amendment to the 2002 Gender Equality in Employment Law, aiming to protect more people in the workplace
By Mo Yan-chih Staff Reporter
Human-rights advocates said yesterday the Gender Equality in Employment Law should go beyond traditional gender roles and include employment rights of people with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations in its regulations.
In an attempt to push for the amendment of the law to protect employees with different gender identities, GLBT (Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender), women’s rights advocates, and legislators joined together yesterday to call on society to create a friendlier and safe workplace for sexual minorities.
"Surviving a sexually discriminatatory workplace has always been a big obstacle for the GLBT community even with the passage of the law, which limits the definition of gender roles to only men and women," said the director of public affairs from the Taiwanese Tongzhi Hotline Association Ashley Wu yesterday.
During a press conference to call for strengthening the law, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislators Cheng Yun-peng and Huang Wei-tze put on dresses and wore high heels to show their respect and support for the sexual minorities, while pledging to propose an amendment to the law in the Legislative Yuan. "The amendment to the law would just be the first step toward improving the rights of people with different gender identifications."
Tseng Chao-yuan, director of the Awakening Foundation
Having some experience of dressing up as a woman for shooting advertisements or other events before, Cheng said that criticism of his "sissy image" has made him realize the pressure and suffering that GLBT people face.
"Many Western countries have been working on creating a friendlier work environment for people with diverse sexual orientations. With gays being elected as mayors in countries like Germany and France, I think Taiwan should follow their direction and embrace all sexual minorities in the workplace, starting with amending the law," he added.
The Gender Equality in Employment Law, which became effective on International Women’s Day in 2002, prohibits the creation of a "hostile sexual environment" created by any person who uses speech or behavior that amounts to requesting sexual favors or showing gender discrimination, thereby infringing upon or interfering with the dignity, personal freedom, or work performance of the individual.
Three years into the passage of the law, however, the implementation of its regulations has been questioned by human rights groups.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Interior last year, there have been 146 complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination filed by employees over the last three years, in which 133 cases were filed in Taipei. A total of 16 counties and cities hadn’t received any complaints in the matter.
"If men and women have been afraid to file any complaints against their companies for the past years, imagine how much harder it must be for members of the GLBT community to stand up and fight sexual discrimination against them in the workplace," Tseng Chao-yuan, director of the Awakening Foundation, a women’s rights group, said.
In 1993, a male kindergarten teacher filed a complaint against his employer for firing him because he dressed like a woman. The ruling of the Gender Equality Employment Committee of the Taipei City Labor Affairs Bureau favored the plaintiff, declaring that the employer’s decision violated the law.
Contrary to what advocates called the "innovative ruling" of the case, two transgender committed suicide after having faced continual sexual discrimination in the workplace and layoffs illustrated that there is still a long way to go to break the gender stereotype and promote sexual minorities’ employment rights, according to the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association.
"The amendment to the law would just be the first step toward improving the rights of people with different gender identifications. To better implement the law, we need to educate those who execute and enforce the law on the concept of gender equality, as well as help people with diverse sexual orientations find acceptance in society," Tseng said.
Copyright © 1999-2005 The Taipei Times. All rights reserved.
October 1, 2005
Taiwan gay activists march for equal rights
A gay activist attends a gay and lesbian parade in downtown Taipei October 1, 2005. Thousands of gay activists, many in flamboyant costumes, took to the streets of Taipei on Saturday to demand equal rights in a society that still frowns upon homosexuality.
by Richard Chung
Thousands of gay activists, many in flamboyant costumes, took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital on Saturday to demand equal rights in a society that still frowns upon homosexuality. Activists, some dressed as Roman warriors, Chinese court officials and winged angels, began their march in downtown Taipei in a carnival-like mood, waving flags and chanting slogans.
"We want society to treat us like normal human beings, and not see us like aliens or sick people," said 23-year-old Vodka Wang, wearing flowing white robes and a golden mask.
Organizers said gay parades in Asia were not as common as in Europe or the United States and were aimed at raising civil awareness and protest against discrimination.
Apart from Taiwan, so far only Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines have organized gay marches, organizers said. "Although Taiwan’s society has become more liberal in recent years, there are still some politicians that make comments discriminating against homosexuals," said Ashley Wu, spokesman for Taiwan Pride 2005, which has organized the parade annually since 2003.
"Gays are also discriminated in the legal system. For instance, homosexuals are not allowed to donate blood," Wu said.
In 2003, Taiwan’s cabinet drafted a controversial bill to legalize same-sex marriage and recognize the right of homosexual couples to adopt children, but the bill is still pending parliament approval.
"Fairytales usually end with a prince and a princess living happily ever after," said Orlando Huang, a 24-year-old student in Snow White attire. "I don’t see why they can’t end with two princesses coming together like us," she said, putting her arms around her partner.
August 31, 2006
Flag-raising will launch gay event–Raising Awareness: The raising of a rainbow flag at city hall in Taipei — the first ceremony of its kind to be held in Asia — will initiate this year’s festival
by Mo Yan-chih Staff Reporter
A rainbow flag will be raised in front of the Taipei City Hall on Sept. 17 as the seventh annual "LGBT Civil Rights Movement — Queer-friendly Taipei" gets underway. Hosted by city’s Department of Civil Affairs, the festival was the first gay event organized by any local government in the country. To help break stereotypes of gays and make gay issues more visible, the city government listed the festival as an item in its annual budget, despite criticism from conservative groups and some city councilors.
Department Deputy Chief Yeh Jie-sheng (???) said the city was sponsoring the event to stress its respect for minority groups and cultural diversity. "Conservative and religious groups have been criticizing the event, and we welcome different opinions. We will invite these groups this year to discuss issues of gay rights together," he said during a press conference yesterday at Taipei City Hall. Yeh, however, denied recent accusations made by some Christian groups’ representatives last Friday that the department would hold a wedding ceremony for gay couples, saying the department would not promote same-sex marriage before such marriages were legalized.
According to Wang Ping (??), secretary-general of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association in Taiwan which is helping organize the festival, the events will include a flag-raising ceremony — the first of its kind in Asia — on the morning of Sept. 17, followed by gay rights forums that afternoon at the Taipei City Council. "The recognition of the rights of gays and lesbians by all people requires making a long-term effort step by step … This festival will establish a bridge and allow the public to better understand the gay community," Wang said, urging the public to join the festival.
A gay art exhibition will also be held between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 at the Huashan Culture Park. Gay rights groups will hold a gay parade on Sept. 30 and plan a collective gay wedding ceremony in the park following the parade. More information about the event is available on the festival’s Web site (www.lgbttaipei.net).
September 30, 2006
First ‘mass wedding’ for homosexuals in Asia
by Maubo Chang, Taipei
Four homosexuals couples tied the knot here Saturday in what is touted to be the first mass wedding for homosexuals in Asia. Dressed in traditional bride’s long white gown and groom’s tuxedo, the new couples proudly exchanged their wedding rings and marriage pledges in front of a priest and more than five thousands of well wishers.
Although their marriages are invalid in the eyes of the law, a new couple said they were pleased that their union was blessed by so many friends, adding that they hoped they could adopt a child one day. Hsu You-sheng an activist for homosexuals’ rights and the organizer of the wedding said homosexuals who carry out their legal obligations under the law as heterosexuals should be given the same right to get married as the heterosexuals. He said an diversified society should tolerate people with different sexual preference and homosexuals should not feel shy about their sexual orientation.
April 20, 2007
Asian Audiences Embrace Gay Cinema?
by Philip W. Chung
Those who think Asia is very conservative when it comes to gay issues might be surprised that two of the biggest films released in the region last year were mainstream "gay" movies with big stars. Korea’s The King and the Clown became that country’s all-time box office champ last spring (at least until The Host arrived in the summer) while Taiwan’s coming-of-age melodrama Eternal Summer was a solid hit, earning multiple nods at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards (the equivalent of our Oscars). Both films will be screening in Los Angeles in May for the VC Filmfest 2007 (L.A.’s Asian Pacific Film Festival).
Set in 16th Century Korea, The King and the Clown focuses on two minstrel performers—the macho leader Jang-Seng (Karm Woo-sung) and the shy Gong-gil (Lee Joon-gi) who, because of his feminine qualities and beauty, plays the female roles in their performances. When the two satirize the King (Jung Jin-young), they are summoned to the court where instead of being executed, they are spared and appointed court minstrels. Soon, the King develops an attraction to Gong-il that leads to a tragic conclusion. The King and the Clown has been called the Korean Brokeback Mountain but it would be hard to imagine a film like Brokeback doing the type of blockbuster business in America that would make it one of the highest grossing films in history. The King and the Clown accomplished that. A big part of that was due to the film performances, which are as pitch-perfect as the direction by Lee Jun-ik, who creates a lush, authentic period feel while maintaining a contemporary sensibility that sets it apart from other period pieces that feel like museum relics.
Taiwan’s Eternal Summer is a contemporary story about two young friends — Jonathan (Bryant Chang Jui-Chia who won the Golden Horse for his performance) and the rebellious Shane (Joseph Chang Hsiao-Chuan) and what happens when a girl (Kate Yeung) comes between them. Directed by the then 25-year-old Leste Chen, Eternal Summer is best described as the type of movie John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) might have made, had he been born Taiwanese and gay. It’s a sensitively directed film with wonderful performances by all three leads, but I couldn’t help feeling that I may have appreciated the film more had I seen it at age 16.
As an adult viewer, it was harder to sympathize with the soap opera-esque take on teen love as this major emotional tragedy. So are Asians more accepting of gay issues, at least on screen, than their American counterparts? In Korea, for example, homosexuality still probably carries more stigma than in the States, but you wouldn’t know it from the success of films like The King and the Clown. Maybe the success of these films has nothing to do with the fact that they are "gay" films. Asian audiences might be more accepting of whatever they see on screen as long as it’s compelling and real. Just look at a typical Korean film (start with something like Old Boy), and you’ll likely see sex and violence depicted in more graphic ways than in a mainstream Hollywood picture.
What this might mean is that audiences everywhere could react in the same way, especially in a country like ours which prides itself on being more open and accepting. It means that our audiences may very well react positively to any story as long as it’s compelling and well-told whether it features gay characters, Asian characters, graphic sex or one of the many other things American studios are reluctant to touch because they think they are not commercial.
VC Filmfest 2007 runs May 3-10 in Los Angeles. For more info: www.vconline.org
09 May 2007
by Ng Yi-Sheng
In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Taiwan’s given us a number of gay films over the years – Lee Ang’s iconic The Wedding Banquet (1993), Yee Chin-Yen’s summery Blue Gate Crossing (2002), and Chen Yin-jung’s deliciously fluffy Formula 17 (2004) come immediately to mind, not to mention the television series Crystal Boys (2003). None of these, however, can compare in sheer emotional intensity to Eternal Summer, released last year by 25-year-old emerging director Leste Chen. Based on Wang Chi-Yao’s novel of the same name, the movie follows the troubled relationship of three young people from childhood to university, as their friendship shifts between troubled lust and love and hatred. The plot’s fairly conventional – Jonathan Kang (Bryant Chang), our protagonist, is a model student who is assigned by a teacher to befriend the troublemaker Shane Yu (Joseph Chang), hopefully acting as a positive influence on him. Naturally, as the boys grow towards adolescence and Shane becomes a hunky basketball player, Jonathan begins to want to be more than friends. Throw in Carrie Tu (Kate Yeung) as the Hong Kong fag hag who’s attracted to both of them, and you’ve got a classic queer love triangle going on.
And yet from the film’s first image, we can tell that this is more than just another gay movie. We open with a wide-angle shot of the three friends, dirty and disheveled in a dingy school corridor – and it’s right here, right away, that Chen introduces his aesthetic of blending the ugly, gritty landscapes of contemporary Taiwan with the sheer beauty of his actors. The camera adores their faces, lingering on them with close-ups to a level rarely seen since the days of the silent screen, and blends them with colours and compositions that complement their sculpted features. Chen allows the story of the friends to unfold at its own pace, without melodrama or camp – almost without words, in fact. It’s in a silent moment that we experience the moment of Jonathan’s first inklings of sexual confusion, and thereafter it’s his silences that count more than his words as he struggles with his love, tortured by his inability to voice his feelings, turning against Shane to prevent himself from speaking the truth ruining their friendship.
Eventually, we come to realise that all three characters – the sullen Jonathan, the gregarious Shane and the subdued Carrie – are all slaves to their own loneliness, too dumb to reach out and pluck happiness for themselves although it grows so close. It’s not being gay that ruins Jonathan; it’s his not daring to admit his love, and the universal angst of urban youth – although [spoiler alert!] he does eventually get to fuck Shane, in a scene that’s extremely pleasant to watch. There’s nothing vulgar about the eroticism of this movie, really – even reaction shots are placed so intimately close to the lens, you can practically smell the salt on the actors’ skin.
One of the most compelling aspects of Eternal Summer might in fact be the familiarity of its setting for local audiences. The Taiwanese schools, bleak institutions of uniforms, corporal punishment and examination pressures, but alive with the headiness of youth, should be familiar to almost any Asian viewer; much more so than the fluorescent drama of the American high school in Hollywood gay films. Likewise, the apartments of damp brick and peeling plaster, the twisty streets criss-crossed with telephone wires and the smoky discos, could all be found in China, Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines. It’s these settings that Chen captures in patterns of gloriously ingrown disorder, making this film not only one of the most heartbreaking, but also one of the most beautiful of Taiwan’s gay films.
This sweeping tale of loneliness and growing up has been praised by viewers gay and straight alike, most tellingly at the Golden Horse Awards, where it garnered four nominations, including one for Jeffrey Cheung’s subtly haunting score. The scrumptious Bryant Chang ultimately nabbed the Best New Performer award, proving that it can pay to act gay on screen in Chinese cinema. Try and catch this one on the big screen if you can – grab a friend or better yet, a lover, hold his or her hand, and be glad you’re not alone.
May 30, 2007
Press Release: Expanded and Updated Guides Explore Modern Gay Japan, South Korea and Taiwan
Utopia Guide to Japan (2nd Edition):
the Gay and Lesbian Scene in 27 Cities Including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya
Utopia Guide to Taiwan (2nd Edition):
the Gay and Lesbian Scene in 12 Cities Including Taipei, Kaohsiung and Tainan
Utopia Guide to South Korea (2nd Edition):
the Gay and Lesbian Scene in 7 Cities Including Seoul, Pusan, Taegu and Taejon
The world’s first guidebooks to gay and lesbian life in East Asia have just been updated and expanded to include contemporary attractions and entertainment for homosexuals in 46 cities including Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei.
While Japan has had gay guidebooks circulating since the 18th century (and even a modern guidebook to gay life designed for Japanese heterosexuals), it is only recently that the English-speaking international traveler has gained access to the Japan’s vibrant subculture.
The Utopia Guide to Japan (2nd Edition) blasts away popular misconceptions that Japan is prohibitively expensive and is unfriendly to foreigners. On the contrary, after suffering from more than a decade of economic flatlining, Japan is cheaper to visit than most major American cities. The current warm welcome for foreigners (and their loose change) is evidenced by English signage posted almost everywhere you go, including signs in Japanese saunas cautioning against "hair dyeing and gum chewing."
Where exactly is the shrine to the 2-ton wooden phallus? Do Love Motels allow same sex couples? Which lesbian bars welcome foreign women? The fascinating answers are to be found in the 128 page Utopia Guide to Japan, including photographs and maps.
South Korean men, with their natural machismo and easy-going metrosexuality, have recently become sex symbols around the region. Their special brand of brotherly "skinship" appeals to both sexes. Korea’s younger generation has cast off the conservative mentality of their parent’s generation.
There have never been laws proscribing homosexuality and any attempts to enact official discrimination have been overturned through the efforts of vocal gay and human rights activists.
"Korea is not a closed society as the world often imagines," says Ted Park, a passionate entrepreneur who opened Seoul’s first publicly promoted gay bar.
"Koreans are very open minded and friendly, yet quite conservative sexually, whether straight or gay. Legally we are well protected.
Children are taught about homosexuality in elementary school and we have laws against discrimination based on sexuality."
How to find the Erotic Art Museum in Seoul? Just what goes on at a Jjimjilbang? Which gay saunas do "don’t ask don’t tell" G.I.s occasion? Find out in the new edition of the Utopia Guide to South Korea.
Taiwan may have Asia’s most liberal society in spite of its Confucian underpinnings. It is also one of the most progressive Asian nations as far as LGBT rights are concerned. Not only does the government of Taipei print up its own free guide to the gay community, but children are taught about homosexuality and tolerance for sexual minorities in school.
Last year, Taipei’s mayor helped to fly a gay rainbow flag over City Hall during the annual 2006 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender festival.
The Utopia Guide to Taiwan celebrates the social advances being made and collects together all the varieties of Taiwan’s gay and lesbian life in one handy directory to a dozen cities.
All of Utopia’s guidebooks compile contact details for organizations and businesses that are popular with both local and visiting homosexuals, including accommodation, bars, discos, spas, and restaurants.
A special section of each book highlights groups, clubs, and spaces that are especially welcoming for women.
Best of all, each book contains dozens of tips and warnings from locals and travelers who, in their own words, provide first hand insights for both frequent visitors and armchair explorers.
The three books are available for sale now in print and E-book form at http://www.utopia-asia.com/utopiaguide/ and in bookstores internationally and from popular online book resellers.
For more information please contact:
September 14, 2007
Gay rights activists stage rally in front of Nicaraguan embassy
Sodomy Law: Activists said that discriminatory clauses against same-sex partners have continued because of pressure from the Catholic Church
by Loa Iok-sin, Staff Reporter
Gay rights activists staged a demonstration outside the Nicaraguan embassy in Taipei yesterday as part of an international campaign against the country’s sodomy law. "Love is not a crime!" activists from six non-governmental organizations shouted in Mandarin, English and Spanish outside the embassy. The international campaign was initiated by Amnesty International Mexico and also took place in 10 other countries.
"Nicaragua is the only Latin American country with a law that prohibits sex between people of the same sex," said Emily Wu (???), an Amnesty International Taiwan member. "That is not only a violation of the Nicaraguan Constitution, but also of international human rights."
Article 204 of Nicaragua’s criminal code stipulates that "anyone who induces, promotes, propagandizes or practices sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex commits the crime of sodomy and shall incur one to three years’ imprisonment." The article was enacted in 1992 and remains effective today, surviving changes to laws initiated by left-wing President Daniel Ortega after his election last year. "Many discriminatory clauses in Nicaraguan laws have been changed since the change of power last year, but this particular article remains in effect because of pressure from the Catholic Church," said Wu Chia-chen (???), a spokeswoman for the demonstration.
Although the action may not generate an immediate response, "we hope to at least give support to the Nicaraguan government to continue legal reform," Wu Chia-chen said. Unable to talk to anyone from the embassy, the demonstrators left a petition in the embassy’s mailbox. An embassy spokeswoman told the Taipei Times by telephone that the embassy was not authorized to respond, but would forward the petition to the Nicaraguan government.
4th October 2007
Taiwan gays demand action not words from politicians
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
This weekend, Taiwan will see its eighth annual gay carnival and fourth annual pride parade, the biggest events of this kind in Asia. After the government-funded carnival a procession, expected to be 10,000 strong, will march through the capital, Taipei. Gay activism in Taiwan has grown stronger in past years, with politicians courting the pink vote, especially in the run up to the legislative elections at the end of the year and the presidential elections next March. But these politicians, don’t always back up their promises for greater tolerance through legislation after they are elected, according to the president of the Taiwan Tongzhi (a Chinese euphemism for gay) Hotline Association.
"Some candidates who have shown support for gay, bisexual and transgender groups during their campaigns never did anything after being elected. Some did push for new legislation or amendments, but in the end they were stuck because of opposition from conservative legislators," he said.
It’s become common for politicians to speak at Taipei pride – last year’s parade saw the then Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang presidential candidate for 2008, described homosexuality as a "natural phenomenon" and a part of "human rights." The current president Chen Shui-bian has proclaimed his support for gay rights in the past, including the right to marry and to adopt children. However, these grand words are very seldom followed by action in parliament, which is also conspicuous for its lack of publicly gay members.
The gay scene in Taiwan has blossomed since the first pride parade in 2003, which attracted only 1000 marchers, with gay cafes and bookshops opening on the streets. But while tolerance has grown, equality laws still lag behind, especially regarding the right to marry.
06 February 2008
Hsiao Bi-Khim: get political!
by Philip Hwang
Hsiao Bi-Khim, a Taiwan legislator who left office last week, recounts her role in sponsoring a same-sex marriage bill in 2006 and explains why the LGBT community needs to get involved politically in an exclusive interview with Fridae’s Philip Hwang.
Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Hsiao Bi-Khim has been one of the most vocal supporters for gay rights within Taiwan’s political arena, authoring a well-publicised proposal to legalise same-sex marriage in the territory. Born to a Taiwanese father and American mother, Hsiao returned to Taiwan over a decade ago to devote herself to politics after obtaining her Master’s degree in Political Science from Columbia University in New York. She became an Advisor to President Shui-bian in 2000 and was involved in President Chen’s 2000 and 2004 election campaign as a spokesperson and international affairs director. She is notably one of the youngest congresswomen in the Taiwanese parliament when she entered the legislature in 2002 at the age of 31.
In 2006, Hsiao sponsored a same-sex marriage bill to be put on the assembly’s agenda but was blocked by 23 lawmakers led by Kuomintang Legislator Lai Shyh-bao who filed a joint petition. Fridae’s Taipei correspondent Philip Hwang spoke to Hsiao about the bill she sponsored in 2006, the limitations of legislators and why the LGBT community needs to play its part in affecting legal change just before she ended her last term in office last week.
æ: Can you briefly recount for us your proposal to legalise same-sex marriage and both its consequences and repercussions?
Bi-Khim: Well, our proposal passed initially, but only because the opposition failed to spot it. When they did however, they produced a counter bill, locking it so it’s not even in the review process, and then preceded to swarm me – and others who signed the bill – with phone calls and emails. Two of my colleagues who were also Presbyterian ministers were under particular pressure, and while no one who signed the bill backed out, we were unable to put it on the agenda. I then held follow-up sessions with various gay rights organisations, and while we had several options – continuing pushing the bill knowing it won’t go anywhere, present a modified bill pushing for same-sex partnership instead, or have another hearing – there was no clear consensus. I actually asked the main legislator behind the opposition, Lai Shi-Bao, why he’s doing this, and while he said that his values dictate that same sex marriage is wrong, I also think he had support from conservative religious groups. In fact, I think they even held a prayer session to condemn me! I made it clear then, that we’re limited in the number of staff we have to draft a new bill. If the gay community wants to present a new bill, I’d be happy to sponsor it, but we ourselves are at capacity. I feel that the gay community needs to get their act together and take the initiative – they can’t just rely on well-intentioned outsiders to do their work for them. I’m sure there are lawyers and professionals in the LGBT community who can and should come up with a new bill so that we can sponsor it; but it doesn’t seem that they’ve progressed on that.
æ: How has working with the LGBT community been then? Have you made clear to them what you have just reflected, e.g., that they need to put in an equivalent effort?
Bi-Khim: I made that very clear. For example, in my work to push animal protection laws, we’ve done the same hearings and such, but the groups I worked with were very specific. They were able to say, “This is what we want,” even providing their own ideal version of the bill and specifying how best to change the current one. We got a lot of input and made a lot of changes together, and it worked. But with same sex marriage, some people want this, and some people want that, yet nobody gave me an ideal version of what they want. I’m willing to be supportive, but if the community has no interest in promoting it, then why should I stick my head out and be called the devil when I’m not even gay or lesbian? Once again, I’m willing to be supportive but I think this is what political action is about: if you feel it’s an important issue, you have to back it up with some action. I think I’ve done my part coordinating public hearings and meetings with various organisations. I’ve also made it clear that if there’s a new bill I’m willing to sponsor it and have my head smashed or whatever – but it has to be a dynamic process.
æ: Last October, of course, saw record attendance at Taipei’s own gay pride parade. Can you comment on that?
Bi-Khim: I think it’s good that it’s getting larger and larger – it shows that our society is getting a lot more tolerant. I think the large numbers also reminds others who are not out yet that they are not alone, so I think it’s more than a party: it serves an important sociopolitical purpose.
æ: While both of the nation’s main political parties – the KMT and DPP – were present during this year’s parade, election promises made to the LGBT community are seldom met. How do you suggest we change that?
Bi-Khim: Firstly, I think there has already been incremental change at the top. President Chen is the first president to meet international LGBT leaders in his official guest reception hall as foreign dignitaries; I don’t think G.W. Bush would do that. Actual change, however, has two dimensions. One is the public’s social psychology, which requires education and gender-sensitive media. The other is political, where we’ve made some progress, for example, on domestic violence, where we’ve incorporated the protection of same-sex partners. Of course, there are other areas where we hope to make progress but have met obstacles, in which case I think party leaders should do something. I’ve asked Lai Shi-Bao why he’s blocking my proposed bill when his boss, party leader, former mayor of Taipei and current opposition presidential candidate Ma Ying-Jeou, is pro-gay. I think that if Ma really wants to be supportive, he should talk to his followers, but we haven’t seen that happening. Of course, there are people in my party who are prejudiced and have made insensitive remarks, but my party headquarters have come out to counter those statements. On the social side, we’ve passed the Gender Equality Education Act, whose name we insisted on instead of “Man-and-Woman Education Equality Act.” Even on that however, people were opposed to the name; they felt that “gender equality” would also include transsexuals or whatever. I think Taiwan as a society is overall more tolerant than other Asian communities, and I’m proud to say that the same excitement you see here at the parade you won’t see in more conservative Asian countries. When I talked to my Japanese colleagues, letting them know that I’ve authored a same-sex marriage bill, they were like, “Oh my god, how can you do that?” It’s incomprehensible for them.
æ: How would you compare the gay rights movement in Taiwan to that in other countries? What are some similar or different challenges that we face?
Bi-Khim: Compared to Europe, of course, we are far behind. There, you have gay people in important political offices. Our sister party in Germany, for example, has a gay chairman, and they’re certainly a lot more tolerant. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard of any openly gay politician in office right now.
æ: I think someone ran a few years back for office but didn’t get elected…
Bi-Khim: Exactly. If you want politicians to support gay rights, then the community must come out to get them elected to act on their behalf. It’s the same in gaining political awareness: there needs to be greater interest and belief that the community can be organised in order to be visible. The parade, for example, is a great way to get that attention.
æ: A recent issue that is of importance to Taiwan’s LGBT community has been the issue of police “fishing,” something that amounts in the west to entrapment. How is that even possible these days?
Bi-Khim: In all honesty, the police have better things to do (laughs). Once again, I think that you need to exert pressure for issues important to you to be taken seriously, but even on the definition of pornography, for example, we’re a lot more tolerant than surrounding countries. With Ang Lee, for example – and I think this goes beyond the fact that he’s Taiwanese – the fact that we can air films of his without them being censored at all is amazing compared to China, Singapore, or other countries. Once again however, to make legal change, you need legal representation. Of the four people who co-signed the bill, I think at least three of us are already out of the game. If the LGBT community doesn’t feel it’s important enough to form a political action group, then there won’t be anyone to advocate for them. I think it’s a problem in Taiwan that people think politics are dirty, but if you don’t do it, you don’t have the ability to effect change.
æ: How would you analyse the political climate in terms of gay rights? Will the upcoming presidential elections in March change anything?
Bi-Khim: First of all, both political parties were at parade, which I think is great. I think that whoever is elected will follow a trend towards a tolerant political atmosphere. By the way, I don’t want to sound I’m complaining, because LGBT community leaders have held a press conference to support my primaries and I really appreciate it – it’s not like there’s no action at all!
æ: On a more personal note, what formulated your stance and view on gay rights?
Bi-Khim: I think I’m just more liberal in general. I come from a liberal educational background, having attended Oberlin College (Ohio, US), where people generally marginalised actually have a strong presence and voice. I think that that was an important educational opportunity to appreciate and understand diversity.
æ: Do you intend to stay in politics in other capacities? What are your future plans?
Bi-Khim: No, I expect to take a serious break from this and I think I deserve that! I will do some traveling and just relax, maybe in Latin America, where I’ll get myself a Latin novio – a Ricky Martin type! (laughs) You know, when I was a teenager I used to have the biggest crush on George Michael. He was like my guy, and when he came out, I guessed that I’ll never get the chance!
æ: George Michael and Ricky Martin…?
Bi-Khim: Well, as I’ve said before, I appreciate diversity!
September 12, 2008
Asia’s largest gay festival begins in Taipei
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The Taiwanese gay community will be celebrating during the coming month as the 2008 Taipei Gay Carnival began today. The highlight of the carnival will be the Pride parade on 27th September. It is expected to attract up to 20,000 participants, making it the largest in Asia. There will also be seminars on LGBT issues and the city government is running an essay competition. The best five will be published in a booklet about gay life in Taipei. Compared to its Asian neighbours Taiwan has a more positive stance towards the gay community, and has previously discussed introducing same-sex unions.
It has become common for politicians to speak at Taipei Pride. Last year the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou spoke before the parade started, pledging to lobby for legislation to protect LGBT rights. The gay scene in Taiwan has blossomed since the first pride parade in 2003, which attracted only 1,000 marchers. There are now gay cafes and bookshops opening. But while tolerance has grown, equality laws still lag behind, especially regarding the right to marry.
September 28, 2008
Taipei holds massive gay pride march
Taipei has held Asia’s largest gay pride march to demand equal rights for homosexuals, transsexuals and transgender people. Braving showers on Saturday brought on by Typhoon Jangmi, an estimated 18,000 people – including representatives from gay rights groups in foreign countries – marched through the main streets of Taipei. The marchers displayed a 90-by-4.5-metre rainbow flag – the symbol of the gay rights movement – and waved placards to call for equal rights for gay people. Wang Ping, organiser of the march, which is in its ninth year, said the turn-out was bigger than 2007.
"Last year there were about 15,000. Today there were about 18,000, and I saw some very young people taking part," she said. "This shows that more and more homosexuals are daring to stand out and be themselves. But we hope this ‘dare to be oneself’ can turn into participation in the gay rights movements," she said.
Taipei held its first gay pride parade in 2002. It was attended by 500 people. Since the late 1980s, Taiwan’s homosexuals have taken part in various activities to demand equal rights and an end to discrimination in schools and workplaces. The Taiwan government has promised to promote equal rights for homosexuals, but has yet to legalise same-sex marriage. In some cities, there have been reports of police harassment of gathering places for homosexuals, but public acceptance of homosexuals has been growing each year, and some analysts say Taipei has become something of a Mecca for homosexuals in Asia.
2008 December 01
Taiwan’s homosexual males vulnerable to HIV: study
Central News Agency – A survey on homosexual males in Taiwan shows that 90 percent of the recorded 164 HIV-positive men are gay, and that 46 percent had delayed seeing a doctor until they knew they were affected by HIV, according to the results released Sunday. The survey was conducted by the Center for Disease Control under the Cabinet-level Department of Health. The results were released on the eve of World AIDS Day, which is observed on Dec. 1. to heighten awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection.
Lo Yi-chun, a medical doctor at the center, disclosed that some of the gay men did not see a doctor until more than six months after an unsafe sexual encounter, or had waited until they developed symptoms of AIDS before seeking treatment. He said the 46 percent of HIV-positive homosexual males who delayed seeing their doctors is a higher rate compared with other countries, where the rates range between 24 percent and 45 percent.
A previous study by National Taiwan University Hospital showed that delay in seeking diagnosis or treatment of HIV could increase the chances of death by 20 percent to 30 percent. According to Lo, in his interviews with HIV-positive patients, many admitted that they did not think they would be so unlucky as to contract HIV in a casual sexual encounter because they had only a limited number of sexual partners. Statistics on new HIV cases in Taiwan compiled by the Center for Disease Control showed that homosexual males accounted for 46 percent of the 728 cases certified as HIV-positive between January and May this year.