Support for the LGBTQ community in Taiwan has been increasing steadily over the past several years, leading it to become the first place in Asia to legalize same sex marriage in 2019. Since then, thousands of gay couples have taken advantage of the landmark legislation. So what makes Taiwan the most LGBTQ friendly place in Asia and actively voice for LGBTQ group?
As part of our ongoing Illume Guide featured blog posts, we interviewed our Taiwan Guide Henry to explore LGBTQ culture in Taiwan and what are the recent trends.
Hi Henry! Tell us a bit about yourself and your passions.
Hi, I’m Henry from Taiwan. Currently working as a cyber security engineer in Taipei. I used to live in New Zealand and japan for many years for study and work.
I got married with my husband Nick in 2019 on the exact same day when the same sex marriage law launched in Taiwan. We are both very actively involved in equality and same sex marriage liberalisation movement in Taiwan. This movement is quite a big part of our life.
For me, the most important values in life are empathy and kindness. I feel our society needs more kindness and compassion, people should try to help each other more and understand what others are going through.
What do you feel about being a gay man in Taiwan?
When I was younger back in 80, 90s, it was quite difficult. LGBTQ related content on TV or magazine were quite discriminated. People made bad joke about gay group and their sexual desire. In fact, people in general don’t know much about them. And then the HIV advertisement made public view on the group even worse. Therefore, when I was young, it’s definitely not easy to tell others about my true feeling. Especially when I watched TV with my parents, I heard they talked very negatively towards gay people.
Things have changed a lot during the last few decades. Now I feel very comfortable as a gay man in Taiwan and don’t feel bound to any social norms. Gay people are very well accepted, especially among younger generation. There is no problem to show my affection to my husband in public, like holding hand or kissing.
Can you tell us a bit about LGBTQ community in Taiwan?
We have a big LGBTQ community in Taiwan and I’m a volunteer worker at NGO TAPCR (Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership right) helping with events and interpretation. I feel very honoured to be part of it and have been working here for 5 years. Their effort made Taiwan the first place to legalise the law in Asia.
In Taiwan there are many small LGBTQ communities and NGOs. It’s a very vibrant and creative society for LGBTQ and there are many queer artists. There are many collaborations with talented queer artist, film makers, magazine editors.
My husband is a drag queen, so a big part of our life is around drag community. We attended a lot drag performances in local gay bars and held a couple of balls. Actually, we were the first to hold the ball ever for the LGBTQ community here.
How do you see LGBTQ culture in Taiwan?
Although LGBTQ Culture in Taiwan might be the most welcoming in Asia, I believe is still at very early stage, especially compared to western countries where the culture has developed for a long time. Here, the culture has just passed the restriction, about to blossom. In general, the public still don’t have enough opportunities to explore queer culture as much. Most people are still very into muscular idea. But on the other hand, this also means there are a lot of opportunities for artist, business coming in to introduce newer things. It would be a big market out there for people who are interest in it.
A lot people might be curious why Taiwan become the first place in Asia to introduce same sex marriage law. I think several aspects contributing to this. First, the democracy we have here means the minority voice are being heard. The more their needs being heard, the more the government will do something with it. That will influence how the society view the community. Then it’s economics stability. If the economy is not stable, government won’t spend enough effort in minority right. Luckily the economy situation in Taiwan is good. Third is religion, we have less than 4% Christian population here which imposes less restriction on LGBTQ group. Lastly, we have a transgender appointed minister without portfolio, Audrey Tang, who is in charge of technology and cyber security with hacker background. So these high profile queer figures really helps to push it forward.
Compared to other Asia country, Taiwan is doing a great job. Take Japan as an example where I used to live, Japan has less public figures to represent the group. I feel the society in Japan expect everyone to be the ‘same’, so it’s not ideal for me to live in that environment, because I can’t fully express myself. Also, people in Japan are used to be like everyone else, so it’s can be difficult to tell who is queer or not. You are more likely to be judged in Japan if you stand out. There are a lot bullying in school. In general people are reluctant to tell others, LGBTQ group are almost invisible.
Whereas the compared to western countries like New Zealand, LGBTQ culture and art in Taiwan are still limited. I believe that the development of culture and art accumulate through time. In New Zealand and UK they have gone through a long history with different experiments. Taiwan is just about try something brave and new.
How does the LGBTQ culture change through time?
I can see the society is getting more and more open minded. Every year, there are more people attending the pride parade and show their support. In 2019, there were over 20k people in parade, which is the biggest in Asia. In terms of social atmosphere, you can see more gay people on the street, they are not hiding anymore.
As I mentioned before things were quite restricted back in 80, 90s. Then through time, there were quite a few iconic films making people look into gender topic. One of the main change point was the murder of a primary school boy in 2000. The boy was bullied and found dead in school toilet because he was not accepted by the group. That case triggered huge discussion in the society and schools started to take gender education more seriously. The whole society started to have the education for gender early in primary school.
Nowadays Gen Z, millennials are in general very open to LGBTQ culture. From local bar to book stores, a lot businesses are expressing they are LGBT friendly, they create sticker to show support. Elder people who have been to martial stage, their education and thoughts were more limited. So there is still a big gap between different generation.
Have you noticed any challenges for LGBTQ group in Taiwan?
I guess each group might have slightly different experience. I don’t think lesbian people have much visibility here compared to gay group. There are only 1-2 lesbian bars whereas you can find 10-20 gay bars. Although I believe there is actually a greater lesbian population.
For transgender group, I feel that their rights are not fully protected yet. For example, there are not enough unisex toilet in Taiwan, which makes it inconvenient for them to use in the public. Some people want to change their gender on ID card, but the procedure is very complicated. Also they might get discriminated in job seeking.
Have you noticed any recent LGBTQ related trends in Taiwan?
I noticed that nowadays more young people are exploring the concept of gender fluidity or none binary. There are more and more films in this topic with more people want to watch them now.
Many celebrities are also making their effort. For example, Jolin Tsai’s latest song Womxnly was nominated for Song of the Year. It was inspired by the story of Ye Yong-zhi who had been long bullied for his perceived effeminate behaviour and was found dead in school’s restroom at the age of 15. It speaks about regardless of gender there is no established framework for gender identity, and Jolin has been constantly paid attention to human rights campaigns, including LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. She described: “People do not have to live in the established framework of society, a boy has femininity doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing, and masculinity is not every boy desires to have.”
There are also more LGBTQ events these years. The gay pride is happening at the last Sunday of every October, which has been held since 2003. On this day, tens of thousands of people join the parade, and there is whole night party and international events where companies sponsor them. And there is Spectrum Formosus, which represents the colourful diversity of Taiwan’s vibrant electronic music scene, embracing and celebrating LGBTQ+ culture alongside Taiwanese traditions and local gastronomy in the mountains of Taipei. It features a magical weekend hosting local and international DJs, arts and crafts, queer culture and more.
Also there are quite a lot companies introduced apps which help LGBTQ people to connect with each other. For example, Jack’d is a location-based chat and dating app for gay and bisexual men. LesPark is a social network app for lesbian, bisexual, and queer women. People meet new friends and women, talk via voice chat, livestream, and find queer events in the community.
One of my favourite queer brands is TAIWANIZE. They celebrate the unique wonders of Taiwanese culture with its roots embedded in Taiwan’s rich Chinese heritage. Using ancient designs, translated into modern aesthetics.
If an international brand typically wants to engage more LGBTQ group, do you have any advices for them?
I would suggest partner with local gay bars and clubs or local NGOs. It’s important to collaborate with someone who can represent the target group, for example, key opinion leader in this filed. Secondly, Taiwan is a very family-oriented society. If their campaign can engage family related concept, that will be very related with local consumers.