Sunday, December 12, 2010
Human Rights Day: LGBT Rights in Taiwan
December 10th was the 60th Anniversary of Human Rights Day. The theme for this year is “human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.” Human rights defenders speak out against human rights abuses and violations, often taking risks themselves in order to raise awareness and create change. I recently had a Taiwanese acquaintance tell me that he thought Taiwanese did not care about human rights. I have to disagree with him.
Since arriving in Taiwan, I have been introduced to a unique and dedicated group of human rights defenders. They do the work of hundreds by mobilizing the general population, organizing volunteers and putting together large events and human rights demonstrations. From what I have seen, these Taiwanese do care about human rights. More than just caring, they are fervently passionate about human rights.
During my first weekend in Taiwan, I was invited to march in the annual Taiwan Pride Parade. I have been to several pride parades in America, including New York’s epic parade, and I was not sure what to expect in Taipei. The first parade was held in 2003, and it was the first of its kind in the Chinese-speaking community. It was a small event, but it drew big attention from the local and international media. Taipei’s Mayor, and current president, Ma Ying-jeou, gave a speech at the end of the parade, saying that major cities around the world have large gay communities, and that the support and respect of these communities is important to the city. Since 2003, the number of participants and support for the event has grown each year.
Taiwan is the most progressive Asian country in terms of anti-discrimination laws protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. In 2007 the Legislative Yuan passed a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the work place. The Gender Equity Education Act prohibits discrimination in education, and beginning in 2011, school textbooks are required to include topics on LGBT human rights and non-discrimination. Taiwan’s Ministry of Education is hoping to promote an environment of tolerance and respect. A poll done by the National Union of Taiwan Women’s Association/Constitutional Reform Alliance in 2006 found that 75% of the 6,439 adults interviewed believed that homosexual relations are acceptable.
Despite having some legislation in place to stop discrimination, there is little written in law to give the country’s LGBT citizens the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. “The concept of ‘partner’ does not exist in Taiwan,” Lu Hsin-chieh, convener-in-chief of the march, and director of policy advocacy at Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association said. “Taiwan’s Civil Code defines a couple as ‘a husband and a wife.” The Basic Human Rights Law, which approved same-sex marriage, was drafted during former president Chen Shui-bian’s term, but has never been voted on due to opposition from cabinet members and legislators. This year three openly gay candidates ran in Taipei City’s legislative elections, and this new presence in local politics coincided with this year’s parade theme.
Taiwan Gay Pride - no comment
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On October 30th, the pride parade theme was “Out and Vote,” an attempt to focus on getting concrete legislation passed by the government in order to protect LGBT rights in Taiwan. Everyone congregated in front of the President’s Office, filling up the large square and spilling over into the nearby streets. Clusters of brightly clad men and women met at the closest metro stations to walk together, and drag queens paraded around striking poses and blowing kisses. Participating groups were split up into colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. As the parade snaked around the city, sharing the streets with cars, buses and motor scooters, at times it was hard to distinguish between the parade participants, spectators and people passing by. Every person along the sidewalk was filming the parade on a camera phone, either out of support or sheer curiosity about what was marching down the street. When people in our group waved to passing cars and buses, we received blank stares or big smiles in return. The weather could not decide to rain or stop, and this left us continually putting up our umbrellas and pulling them down as we walked. Because we were sharing the road with the usual traffic, we had to stop at red lights and then make a run for it when they turned green in order to catch up to the group in front of us. I heard one guy behind me say, “I didn’t know this was the gay marathon,” as we sprinted through an intersection. At the end of the march, all of the color sections lined up in a pseudo rainbow to get a panorama shot of the entire group from atop a nearby building. Looking at the picture later on the Taiwan LGBT Parade website, I could feel the enormity of over 30,000 people and the giant voice of a group of people united by one cause.
Despite only having one day out of the year designated the official Human Rights Day, in many peoples’ lives human rights is a constant priority. LGBT rights is a relatively new fight in Asia, and I believe that Taipei is going to continue to be the leader in this struggle against discrimination.
Taiwan Pride Parade Slideshow
United Nations Human Rights Day Website