Taiwan, to us, is on top of the list of countries in Asia that have surprised us the most. Frankly, we didn’t know much about Taiwan, and odds are: so do you (except the fact they just legalised same-sex marriage). And that has to change! Taiwan is AMAZING and definitely the most progressive place in Asia, in my opinion, arguably the world (yes, Dutchie speaking!). Are you ready to be surprised by how gay Taiwan is?!
Taiwan Gay Marriage: Asia’s First
In 2017, the Constitutional Court of Taiwan ruled that the definition of marriage as one man and one woman in the law was unconstitutional. The Court requested a change of legislation, by either adjusting existing laws or creating new ones, within a time frame of two years.
On International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2019 – May 17 – same-sex marriage was officially legalised. Over 500 couples have already registered today (the day the law went into effect). Legalising gay marriage wasn’t without controversy and there will be some limitations. The new law offers similar legal protections as heterosexual marriage, but it’s a separate law. Same-sex couples will only be allowed to adopt children biologically related to at least one of them.
While the entire world seems to be setting steps backwards (abortion is up for discussion again? Seriously?!), Taiwan is setting a big step forward. Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage. The president, Tsai Ing-wen (yes, Taiwan has a female president!), proudly tweeted:
And to the question: but is Taiwan a country? Here’s the answer from Taiwan’s foreign minister:
It would be amazing if China would set the next step in Asia, however, we have little hope. We suspect Thailand is next to legalise gay marriage!
Progressive Gay Rights
Although public opinion and legislation aren’t always aligned, legislation is very important for queer people and travellers. Of 48 countries in Asia, 23 criminalise homosexuality. That is almost 50%! Interestingly, Taiwan has no laws against homosexuality, nor did it ever have them!
Let’s build a stronger case: Taiwan is one of the very few places in Asia that has anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation. There are about 9 countries that allow homosexual people to serve in the military, but only Isreal and Taiwan provide a wider range of LGBT rights.
In addition, people can legally change gender without transitioning – providing a freer choice for transgender and intersex people. Taiwan is the world’s first country to have a transgender minister: Audrey Tang.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Many opinion polls over time have found the majority of the Taiwanese population supports same-sex marriage. Support is highest among 20-29-year-olds but decreases significantly with age. Older generations worldwide are more conservative, but name a country where that isn’t the case!
Unfortunately, in 2018, the shocking results of a referendum regarding same-sex marriage were: the majority of Taiwanese people were against marriage equality. As mentioned before, legalising gay marriage wasn’t without troubles. Like many places in the world, Taiwan also knows homophobia and anti-LGBT activism, but it is different than we know in the western world: in Taiwan, anti-homosexual violence is extremely rare.
Many Asians believe homosexuality does not exist in traditional Asian culture and see it as something that belongs in Western cultures. With the new law, a new message is sent out all over the world: it does exist within Asian cultures and it does not jeopardise traditional values.
Interestingly, Taiwanese are very open-minded, even the government is liberal. The government decided in 2004 kids should be educated about LGBT-acceptance in school, so they passed the Gender Equity Education Act, requiring schools to teach gender equality and diversity. This might explain why the younger generation is much more liberal than the older generation.
Taiwanese culture centres around respect and being politeness, much like the Japanese. Where everyone in the western world is entitled to their own opinions (and always so eager to share those opinions with the whole wide world), integrity is a huge part of Asian cultures like the Taiwanese and Japanese.
More about Japanese acceptance: How Friendly is Japan for LGBT+ Travellers?
Taiwanese people believe things happen for a reason. So if a man falls in love with a man, it must serve a purpose. This can be led back to the main religions in Taiwan: Buddism and Taoism. In none of these religions are arguable issues about LGBT+ people, nor do they discuss sexual behaviour and tendency. This isn’t the case in Western culture, where religion is often at the roots of homophobia. In Taiwan too, homosexuality is a taboo, but it was never criminalised or ‘wrong’ per se.
Lesbian Taiwan: our experience
We can seriously not say enough great things about Taiwan. After travelling through all of Asia for a year, we arrived in Taiwan and it was a brand new Asia.
During our trip through Taiwan (we travelled along the east coast) we were blown away by the country’s openness. We have rarely felt so at ease as a lesbian couple. When we saw other gay couples holding hands in public, we nearly lost it. It’s very uncommon in Asian cultures to show affection in public in general (heterosexual couples too), so imagine our surprise when seeing same-sex couples do it!!!
It’s an indescribable feeling to be able to be openly affectionate with your partner and not worrying about homophobic responses. We felt safer than ever and that truly is the best feeling ever!
We also met a few LGBT+ people on our way. At our first Couchsurfing address in Taipei, we were surprised to meet the girlfriend of our host: she’s a gorgeous trans woman. Although we did not talk about the subject, we can see her transition openly documented on her Facebook-account. In Kaohsiung we couchsurfed at a young art student’s apartment. He was adorable and gay, he was super interested in learning more about Europe and he was so happy to host his first lesbian couple haha. He proudly showed us pictures of his Estonian boyfriend, whom he visited a few months later. At some other couchsurf-addresses, the topic homosexuality came up without us bringing it up, which – in our opinion – shows how liberal the Taiwanese people are.
Read more about our experiences in our Taiwan travel journal.
Gay Taiwan Travel
Of course, our experience as queer females doesn’t represent the experience of queer males in the community. That is why we’ve asked gay traveller Vinny from V-Squared to share his experience of travelling to Taiwan:
I was invited by the Taiwanese Tourist Bureau for a press trip in 2016 as a recognized LGBTQ Influencer – and the experience changed me forever. I still remain in touch with some of the locals that I met 3 years ago. The Taiwanese culture is warm and inviting and has a surprising LGBTQ scene with a decent amount of LGBTQ venues and safe spaces – Drag queens too! During my stay, there was an LGBTQ Pride March being held in Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei. The march was like no other I have ever seen. Most of the attendees marched in silence; it was not a celebration but a protest.
I was told by a local LGBTQ member that the 2016’s pride march was going to be a demonstration to the Taiwanese government, who, at the time, were considering amending their government to recognize and include same sex marriages. As the largest LGBTQ pride parade in Asia, everyone was poised to stand together in solidarity, willing the Taiwanese government to recognize that their love is also valid, and therefore the law should reflect that basic human right.
To see Taiwan come full circle, all beginning with a march that really catapulted the decision of marriage equality, and now to see my friends celebrate their victory, has been truly one of best experiences as an LGBTQ traveler. Taiwan holds a very special place in my heart, and I could not be happier that love, once again, wins.
Learn more about Vinny’s experiences in Taiwan, he made a Youtube video about it!
Taipei is considered the San Francisco of the East and is known for being accepting, open and progressive. It’s the gay capital of (east) Asia basically. The gaybourhood of Ximending is the place to be for drag shows and gay bars. The Red House is especially famous, the square behind the building is home to many (outdoor) gay bars. One of the lesbian places to go to is the area around ShiDa night market.
The other big cities, Kaohsiung and Taichung, also have gay scenes, though much smaller. Kaohsiung is famous for being artsy (many murals!) and Taichung has a rainbow village you can visit. You will find the same acceptance in these cities as you’ll find in Taipei!
LGBT+ events in Taiwan
✶ Taiwan Pride – since 2003, the largest gay pride event in East Asia, and the second largest in Asia behind the parade in Tel-Aviv, Israel.
✶ Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF) – the only LGBTQ+ film festival in Asia. Takes place yearly in autumn since 2014, in Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Taichung.
Read all our Taiwan articles!
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