Due to Taiwan passing same-sex marriage legislation on May 24 of this year, Taipei Pride was slated to be the biggest one yet. The tumultuous history of getting marriage between same-sex couples legalized spanned almost two decades, culminating in the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the Civil Code’s clauses relating to marriage were unconstitutional. The person responsible for setting the landmark precedent in Asia is 61-year-old gay / AIDS pioneer / activist Chi Chia-wei, who set the train in motion by applying for a marriage license back in 2013. Chi Chia-wei has been an activist for over 30 years, and was the first person in Taiwan to come out as gay on television, during a self-organized press conference back in 1986.
The theme for this year’s parade was “Together, Make Taiwan Better,” marking the 17th year of its observance. Nearly 200,000 people attended this year’s march according to parade organizers Taiwan LGBT Pride. The 3.4-mile-long parade route began at Taipei City Hall and ended at the Presidential Palace, where a performance stage greeted everyone who managed to finish the long march that went on for about 7 hours.
The first time I heard about the budding Taipei queer scene was at this year’s Wigwood Miami festival, from Jacksonville drag queen Devilbot. She told me that I should get in contact with a drag queen named Popcorn who resides in Taipei by way of New Zealand. I reached out to Popcorn a few months back and asked if it would be worth checking out Taipei’s pride parade this year, to which she replied “With the legalization of same-sex marriage earlier this year, it should be much larger than previous years (already being the largest in Asia).” She also mentioned that she would invite me to the techno/art/queer Spectrum Formosus festival held at a tea farm the weekend following Pride, and that was enough for me to get wet and book my trip ASAP.
The parade was scheduled to take off at 1:30 pm, with thousands of people accumulating at Taipei City Hall’s plaza. Hordes of people were getting ready to march, half of them crammed into the narrow street of the vendor-lined Rainbow Market. The parade was divided into six sections, each one representing a different color of the rainbow, with five flags representing bisexual, trans, pansexual, asexual, and intersex groups leading the six sections along the route (Taiwan News). Thirty companies registered this year to sponsor and participate in the parade – a record number for Taiwan. In contrast, this year’s NYC’s WorldPride included over 100 sponsor companies.
Along the Rainbow Market people were getting ready to step off: several muscular Taiwanese guys were putting on their golden wings before boarding the Grindr float; drag queens were finishing up their final make-up touches; people were taking a dip in a bathtub filled with plastic bubbles created by MAC cosmetics; and local artist Deng Yunxiang was holding a performance-art demonstration warning everyone that “Today’s Hong Kong can be tomorrow’s Taiwan.”
A very skinny older gentleman dressed in everything rainbow caught my attention. He was standing to the side, all by himself – a huge rainbow flag on a metallic pole sticking out of his backpack with two teddy bears attached to either side. I recognized him instantly – it was Chi Chia-wei himself! Along the parade route I ran into him two more times: once on the balcony of a shopping plaza, where news media outlets swarmed around him; and on a building’s rooftop, where he swayed his flag incessantly. During one of the interviews I overheard a Taiwanese interpreter, translating for an American white male journalist, saying that even though Chi Chia-wei is joyous over the recent turn of events, there is more work that needs to be done.
Indeed, even though the same-sex marriage bill was recently introduced and over a thousand couples have gotten married so far this year, they still cannot exercise all of the same rights that heterosexual couples are able to enjoy. Same-sex couples can currently only “adopt their partners’ biological children and … only marry foreigners from countries where gay marriage is also recognized”(The Guardian). Some of the local queer people have expressed that even though it seems that Taiwan is open and accepting of the new law, there is still a big chunk of conservative opposition, especially outside of Taipei. Nonetheless, the future seems hopeful for Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ community, as Chi Chia-wei stated to Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Taiwan has taken a big step, other countries will not need another 30 years to get there.”