Taiwan has a lot to be proud of this year. In 2017 the island nation became the first country in Asia to ban the consumption of dog and cat meat, and barely a month later the high court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal, another first for the continent.
Though the legal framework will take two more years of refinement before the law is officially changed, the people of Taiwan came out to celebrate the decision in a big way at this year’s annual Pride march on October 28. An estimated 123,000 people showed up to openly celebrate together, compared with the 500 attendees of the original Taiwan Pride event 15 years ago. It’s the largest Pride event in Asia after Israel, and is thought to be driving acceptance of the LGBT community in neighboring countries.
I was lucky enough to attend this landmark event, and in no small way proud of the way progress has expanded across the ocean. Taiwan Pride’s theme was “Make Love, Not War – Sex Ed is the Way to Go,” echoing our own Summer of Love 50th Anniversary celebrations that abounded this year. And for an event that relies heavily on corporate donations to survive, it was good to see Bay Area-based companies like Google extending their support across the Pacific.
Even if San Francisco isn’t directly responsible for Taiwan’s legislative changes, our city’s approach to equality is contagious in a society like Taiwan’s, where the struggle against oppression is a long-standing part of their cultural heritage: the country was most recently occupied by Japan for about 50 years until the end of World War II, and has since been unable to get its declared independence recognized by China.
As Pride parades go, this one was notably joyous and well-organized. Three distinct parade routes brought revelers back to a central location with a mainstage near the Presidential Office Building. It was all a short jaunt from the Ximen neighborhood, the ostensibly gay epicenter of Taipei where lots of LGBT-friendly bars, bookstores, and bathhouses can be found.
Attendees were dressed much in the same way as their San Franciscan counterparts, decked out in pins and face paint, skin at varying degrees of covered and uncovered, rainbow flags waving proudly. The most notable distinction was the lack of drunk teenagers using Pride as an excuse to day-drink for the first time, to no one’s loss. There was a tangible sense of true celebration, the unique feeling of hope legitimized by legislative action.
At night I headed to Red House, a popular collection of restaurants and gay bars in an open-market layout where the party continued well into the morning. Because Taiwan is a tropical country, it wasn’t even too cold at night as we drank and danced along to drag queens covering George Michael. As it goes, the only creepy straight dude at the whole Pride event managed to find and harass me, but fortunately plenty of my new friends were ready to step in and keep the vibe positive.
Of course, it’s easy for someone like me to take these celebrations for granted: I grew up with the privilege of seeing them as the status quo in San Francisco. Taiwan may be more culturally progressive than some of its neighbors, but the fight to be out and proud is a constant one everywhere in the world, and most places aren’t so accepting of gay visibility. For example it’s illegal in China to show same-sex romance on TV.
This makes the open spectacle of Taiwan’s Pride march that much more radical, that much more worthy of celebration. The country ranks pretty well as a safe place to visit in general, and the LGBT people in my group and those we met seemed unafraid and totally free to be themselves, even on non-Pride days. Eating soup dumplings and drinking boba tea should be pressure-free for all tourists, no matter who they love, and visiting Taiwan during Pride made it clear that this is possible.
Taiwan Pride made for a wonderful day and an equally fun night, a march to rival our celebrations in San Francisco. It was especially meaningful in light of the greater context of increased global acceptance of LGBT rights and equality, so kudos to the people and government of Taiwan for taking the lead on this necessary step forward in human progress.