Taiwan Pride is Taiwan’s annual Pride Parade. Last Saturday, October 28th, it took place in Taipei (as usual), this year under the motto “Stand with Diversity.” With its estimated 176.000 participants, Taiwan Pride was the largest such event in South East Asia this year. (The biggest event in East Asia was likely in Tokyo that reported over 200.000 people).
Taiwan, Asia’s paragon of LGBT rights
In the last decades, Taiwan Pride grew to be one of the most important and popular in the region. After some grass-root events mostly by the gay community, the first official Taiwan Pride was held in 2003, supported by former Taipei major (and later president) Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). The event grew bigger in the following years, even overtaking Tel Aviv in 2019 to become the biggest Pride in Asia.
2019 was also the year same sex marriage was legalized in Taiwan. While Taiwan’s LGBT rights are often considered the most progressive in Asia, they are still an important issue of activist advocacy, leading for example to new legislature in May this year that grants homosexual couples full adoption rights. Culturally, the LGBTQ+ community still faces challenges, with many people being afraid to come out at work, especially towards supervisors.
Yet, despite the tension between its for Asian standards progressive legislation and for Western standards conservative culture, LGBTQ+ rights are not a major issue of polarization in Taiwan’s upcoming 2024 elections – different from the US and several European countries. Even though of the current presidential candidates only current Vice President William Lai (賴清德) attended Taiwan Pride personally this year, all parties sent some delegations to attend.
Taiwan Pride 2023
Taiwan Pride is a major event in the city’s calendar, with broad public support from all sectors and areas of society, be it political parties, corporations, or various interest groups from civil society. Starting at the rainbow crossing at Taipei city hall, the parade moves along the festive Ren’ai road, passing many of Taipei’s major sights.
Like in many years outside the Years of Covid, this year’s event attracted people from all stances of life, with Taiwanese from all over Taiwan traveling to Taipei and many international guests flying in from all over the world. For those from Europe and the US, it was thus a great way to experience Taiwan and its open society outside of their TV and smartphone screens. For those coming from other SEA countries with much stricter rules, it was a lived example for what they aspire their societies to be one day.
Walking towards the main event alongside Taipei 101, I was quickly mesmerized by the overall joy and vitality in the streets. I could hardly remember seeing as many smiling faces and feeling as light about the state of the world lately. It quickly reminded me that progress in terms of liberal rights is still possible, that the goal of freedom is not to win elections but to allow people to live their life to the fullest.
There are still important issues when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights in Taiwan, yet the parade was an event to celebrate the accomplishments of the past, even more so to enjoy the freedom to love whomever you fall in love with in the present. (Or who you think is incredibly hot!)
Same Love, Equal Rights
Together with a friend, I joined a group of staff from the various de-facto embassies of the EU and its member-countries who planned to join the parade. We quickly met several other representative groups from all around the world similar to ours. The UK started right with us, the Australians & New Zealanders too were close, and the US was represented by a big group lead by the director of the AIT in person.
It took a while for everyone to sort themselves out – a great opportunity to take photos! – then the parade loudly and excitedly started moving. The slow reference points in our vicinity were a large crowd of Google employees, a carriage of clothing retailer GAP, noticeable mostly by the loud guffaw of its airy MC, and a driving disco/pizza bakery sponsored by Pizza Hut – whose later handouts were very welcome.
Carrying our banner (“Same Love, Equal Rights”), we too attracted a lot of attention, or rather, our VIP did. Invited by the Dutch representatives, acting Miss International Queen 2023 Solange Dekker – dressed in a stunning pink dress and towering above anyone else by at least a head – gave the EU an as iconic as ironic monarchic leader, and the crowd another favorite.
And yet, I couldn’t help but to feel a bit sad about the group that we jokingly referred to as “Benelux+”. While Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands had a strong showing, only two friends and I made the small German delegation. Everyone else and every country else did either abstain, or silently defected after the initial photo shoot. Personally, I think a clearer stance for human and liberal rights would have suited the EU’s various representatives well, especially in these times and at this place.
With my camera at hand and the parade slowly moving along Ren’ai Road and it’s side roads, I was quickly captured by all the ornament and attire around me. “Colorful” was the thème du jour, of course, joy its temper, becoming alive in rainbows, mermaids and -men, in flags, capes, mantles, masks, and superheroes.
While probably still quite tame compared to some of the Western Cristopher Street Days, I enjoyed the gaiety and positivity, the celebration of bodies – often well-trained, but celebrated just as much if not. Bare female breasts were rare, but especially the gay community embraced their physicality passionately, with many men wearing nothing but a loincloth and their colorful or kinky costume.
It was wonderful to see this, an openness in comparison to which the heterosexual community often feels dull, overly self-conscious, and uptight. Writing this down, I wonder about this a bit. There is an element of weird comparison and contest among straight men (and probably women, too) that I don’t experience towards gay men. Maybe it has to do with the fact that a gay man’s perfect body could in theory be something for me to enjoy as well, whereas a straight man’s is never anything but competition in a deeply ingrained and often unconscious status game.
But where there is light there also is shadow. I am thus all the more happy for everyone here embracing their sexuality like this given the challenges many have gone through or are still going through. In Taiwan, many people are still irritated when family members, friends, or colleagues are coming out. Many members of the community thus certainly had their experiences of exclusion, bullying, or even discrimination. A wide tattoo on the ripped abs of one of the mermen made this clear: “Life isn’t fair, get used to it.”
Even 200.000 participants is still not much for an island of 24 million. In Germany, the quota might be something like 3 to 80 million. Overall, this is still a tiny minority of the population who experience one of the most important events of one of the biggest minority groups in our respective societies.
I guess naked people, explicit emphasis on (especially male) genitalia, kissing gay couples, and strangers of the same sex offering hugs (and more) might be a challenge for some. It’s hard to tell where our prejudice or biases come from. Sometimes it’s even hard to tell that they are there. When we can look at them and ourselves compassionately, our biases are often not much more than a lack of knowledge and understanding. A little bit of shyness maybe or fear, a reminder that every life is too short to experience everything that is human. Often though, they are just the mind playing tricks on us, and there is nothing better than to expose ourselves to reality one small step at a time. To experience what our actual reaction is when we see or feel something new. So if you feel a bit weird about visiting one of these events – and if only a little bit – stay with that weirdness for a little while. Feel what it truly feels like, and find out what it says not about other people, but what it speaks to you.
Whether or not you can appreciate the sexuality of your own gender (and it is wonderful to do so!), joining a Pride Parade will likely be a great experience. Seeing some naked flesh can be fun, but Pride offers much much more. It’s a parade, after all, joyful, funny, exciting. It is a celebration of freedom, love, and individual rights that allow us to become our best selves. It creates a sense of togetherness and belonging, and this in a way that centers not on any person or group of celebrities – which is a very rare treat in our follower-obsessed times. Also, there might be free pizza.
Most of all though, it is a chance to exchange smiles with strangers, hundreds and thousands of them, for hours and hours on end. While many of those taking part in the parade are likely part of the wider LGBTQ+ community, people of all generations and states of life were joining to greet the parade here in Taipei. The city didn’t stop the traffic for it, we had to wait at traffic lights and walked along scooters and cars for some time. This was weird, but it also emphasized a certain naturalness. It reduced the difference between those taking part in the parade and those cheering from the sides, with both groups mingling and switching roles. Personally I think that is a great image for what LGBTQ-life in our societies should look like.