INTERVIEW: A Taiwanese Marriage Equality Activist Talks Queer Rights

INTERVIEW: A Taiwanese Marriage Equality Activist Talks Queer Rights

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Ying-Chao Kao

With the news that Taiwan might be the first Asian country to legalize marriage equality, we wanted to talk to some people on the ground in Taiwan. First, we spoke to a married person and now, we’re talking with an activist. Ying-Chao Kao, is currently a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University, and despite working in academia and catching a midnight flight back to Taiwan, he still found the time to talk with us.

Unicorn Booty: Personally, what do you think of President Tsai’s work with the queer community?

Ying-Chao Kao: Taiwan’s tongzhi (LGBTQIA in Taiwanese) community has heard that President Tsai delivered positive messages about marriage equality, echoed by a small group of legislators’ practical actions. But the community will see if the President sincerely cares about tongzhi‘s human rights and welfare by passing the Marriage Equality Bill — instead of an imagined domestic partnership bill that put tongzhi as secondary citizens. 

When marriage equality becomes law in Taiwan, what’s next for LGBTQ activists?

Many issues have been covered in Taiwan tongzhi movement. In fact, I suggest it is unfair and untrue to use the Western timeline imagination of progressive history to consider Taiwan tongzhi agenda. Since 1990, the first tongzhi organization was given birth, and 2003, the first Taiwan Pride Parade, the tongzhi movement in Taiwan has been covering a wide range of issues, including LGBTQI education from kindergarten to university, HIV/AIDS and health, family, the youths and senior’s life, lesbian’s intimacy, and tongzhi human rights and sex rights. Recently, the sex rights of the disabled have been substantially discussed and served by a group of volunteers. The issues on transgender people’s eligibility to change their sex category on ID cards without surgery and their use of restroom based on their gender identity have been heatedly debated. 

These examples tell that many issues have been put on the Taiwan tongzhi activist groups’ agenda, sometimes even more advanced than marriage equality. It is very recent that the marital rights have become the main issue of tongzhi activism, accompanying with the spread of pinkwashing and homonationalism and the US use of LGBTI rights as a diplomatic strategy. Don’t forget, homosexual behaviors in Taiwan had never been criminalized ever, while they were still illegal in many states in the 1990s in the US. We should use a perspective of cultural relativism to understand the development of tongzhi movements in Taiwan and other non-Western countries while assuming that the historical progress is usually NOT linear. 

How has the news of professor’s Jacques Piroux’s suspected suicide affected non-queer Taiwanese citizens? Do you think it will make any real impact on the non-queer attitudes towards marriage equality? Why or why not?

The tragic death of professor Jacques Piroux pushes many queer and non-queer Taiwanese citizens to face the inequality and practical struggles that Taiwan tongzhi are facing. It does stimulate a wider discussion and demand for marriage equality, thanks to the social status and reputation of this late couple. The tragedies of many other couples who are poorer and less prestigious have been silenced and ignored for years. 

However, even after this tragedy occurred, many religious conservatives still do not want to agree with marriage equality. Reiterating “love,” “respect,” “protection,” and other liberal terms, they are advocating for amendments of single articles or giving tongzhi a special law, instead of including tongzhi couples as part of protection in the Civil Law – Family Member Chapter. In other words, they sound liberal by recognizing tongzhi existence and needs. But they treat tongzhi as secondary citizens by suggesting “separate but equal.”  

Have there been any Taiwanese television shows or movies that have introduced same-sex marriage as a plot point? Which ones? How have they been received?

Yes, check these out: Jolin Tsai – We’re All Different, Yet The SameThanatos, Drunk and Ang Lee’s film The Wedding Banquet.

Last time Taiwan considered marriage equality, a loud Christian opposition appeared to put a stop to it — and they’ve come back again this month. In America, most people see our anti-gay protestors are considered a loud minority; how do Taiwanese people at large see them? Do you think they’ll be successful blocking marriage equality again? Why or why not?

It’s interesting for me to hear that you see these religious conservatives as “a loud minority.” These Christians think that they are silent majority that has been bullied by tongzhi as a loud minority.  It is still not clear how Taiwanese conceive these religious conservatives since they are still at the emerging and developing stage. As a sociologist, I do not have evidence to state that to what extent they are accepted or rejected. However, I do hear that some journalists tend not to spend too much ink on them because their discourses are usually untrue, irrational, and seditious. 

Unfortunately, I think they will successfully become a barrier on the way to marriage equality. They mobile fear, hatred, and distrust against tongzhi and even the government. A few conservative DPP politicians cross-partisanly work with the KMT-ish Christians, trying to use the same-sex only domestic partnership bill to replace the one of marriage equality. 

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