Gay Rights as a „Weapon” of Soft Power
Taiwan’s sensitive geopolitical situation causes the island to find ways outside of traditional diplomacy to assert itself in the international sphere. Since the 1980s, emphasizing their democratic values has been their main tool in building their soft power. The 2017 ruling of Taiwan’s Constitutional Court deeming it unconstitutional for marriage to be restrained to a union between a man and a woman brought Taiwan into the Western media’s spotlight. Is this decision of the first Asian territory to legalize marriage equality based on the attitudes of its population or on the government’s foreign policy strategy?
The Republic of China – or Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled on the 24th of May 2017 that article 972 of the Civil Code that limits marriage to be only valid between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, brought the island into international limelight. The court’s decision gave lawmakers two years to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, after which period it automatically becomes legal. The changing of the Civil Code would make Taiwan the first country in East Asia to guarantee the right of same-sex couples to marry. The hypothesis of this paper is that even though the decision has the support of the larger segment of Taiwan’s population, it is still part of the ruling Democratic Party’s strategy in hope of increasing the island’s recognition in the region and gaining more soft power by setting an example. It would allow them to express their commitment to the democratic values and their closeness to the United States, as well as their distance from the People’s Republic of China, their authoritarian state structure, as well as the conservative views of the ruling Communist Party.
The analysis examines the surveys conducted in both regions assessing the attitudes towards homosexuality of both the Mainland Chinese and the Taiwanese population. It looks at newspaper articles in addition to the views expressed by experts and activist of the field. The last chapter gives a short summary of Taiwan’s “gay history”. By comparing the treatment of the LGBTQ community in Taiwan with that of Mainland China it aims to assess whether the Island’s gay-friendly atmosphere can be attributed to the tolerant attitudes of the Taiwanese or the government’s efforts in providing an example for Asia’s other nations.
Taiwan’s efforts in gaining soft power
The history of Taiwan and its relationship with The People’s Republic of China led to the development of a very sensitive and volatile diplomatic situation in which two territories face off for the recognition as “China” and by that the belonging to the international community. Since Mainland China took over as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Taiwan’s number of diplomatic partners have been decreasing and with that did its elbow-room in international politics. For this reason, maintaining good relations – even if only outside the realm of traditional diplomacy has been in the forefront of the island’s strategic thinking. To maintain the growth of its export-oriented economy, attracting foreign investment is just as crucial as being considered a developed, democratic power with a high quality of life for its citizens.
For this reason, ever since its democratic transition in the eighties, Taiwan has been working on developing its soft power. Joseph Nye’s term refers to a country’s ability in asserting its power without the means of hard tools such as coercion or money and instead using attraction and example setting to realize its needs. A country can affect other states’ behavior by the attractiveness of its culture, political values or foreign policy.[i] Because the People’s Republic of China has been working on gaining such an advantage[ii], the competition between the two regions has become even more intense.
Having few diplomatic partners, Taiwan has experience in conducting public diplomacy, connecting with other nations through its cultural or religious organizations as well as its human rights NGOs, student associations and other civil initiatives.[iii] In addition to the work of these actors, the island also wishes to stand out in the East Asian region as one of the most democratic powers – something that in the current international sphere with the United States being the most influential power is still one of the best means in gaining soft power.
Looking at the island’s domestic policy, there is a need on the part of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to differentiate itself and its policies from that of the Kuomintang (KMT). Given Taiwan’s geopolitical situation and limited diplomatic power, the main difference between the two main parties has been their view and handling of cross-strait relations. During the 2016 campaign ahead of the presidential elections, it was in the DPP’s favor as an opposition party to diversify the conversation by introducing new social topics, for this reason reintroducing the question of marriage equality was a logical step.[iv] It was also part of now president Tsai Ing-wen’s campaign, serving to gain the support of younger generations. Looking back at her first two years in office, it seems like the issue is not part of her agenda anymore, since the campaign ended, she has not proved her support for the cause.[v]
If vocally supporting the rights of sexual and gender minorities and the legalization of same-sex marriage was a campaign tool of DPP, in one sense it already achieved its goal. As from Chen Nai-chia’s research into the Western media’s reaction to the court’s ruling, one can clearly see that with only 4 out the 11 articles mentioning the People’s Republic of China, the ruling provided media attention for the island strictly concentrating on their own achievements, democratic society and gay-friendly atmosphere, finally leaving cross-strait relations out of the narrative.[vi] This type of attention is what the island needs to gain world-wide recognition of their development and attraction regardless of their connections to the Mainland.
Other sources mention the profits of the so called “rainbow tourism”, the importance of which might grow with the cooling relationship with the People’s Republic. Some believe there to be a conscious effort on the government’s part to provide the island with the image of the most gay-friendly place in Asia. LGBTQ tourism being worth 370 million dollars globally and showing a yearly growth of 10%, this could serve as lucrative alternative to the slowing influx of Mainland tourism. [vii]
To be regarded as LGBTQ-friendly is not only important for Taiwan in order to assert its differences from Mainland China, but also to gain the good favors of other nations. The hypothesis of this paper is that the DPP’s and Tsai Ing-wen’s support for marriage equality during her presidential campaign served as a tool for the territory to assert its commitment to democratic values, and at the same time by becoming the first in Asia to legalize gay marriage may signal their affinity to the United States rather than to the People’s Republic of China.
Views on homosexuality in traditional Chinese culture
Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China have Han Chinese majority populations, so examining this group’s historical treatment of the LGBTQ community helps ascertain the cultural roots of their views today. The Han Chinese had differing views on homosexual relations throughout their history. In his book Passions of the Cut Sleeve, Bret Hinsch collected the appearances of same-sex relationships within China’s literary tradition. From his findings, going back to the time of the Zhou dynasty ( BC 510-314) shows that (mostly male) homosexual relations – in part romantic, in part relations based on social hierarchy have been seen as normal until the arrival of European Christian missionaries in the seventeenth century, causing the latter to be outraged.[viii] These relationships appear in internationally known classics such as the Dream of the Red Chamber written in the eighteen’s century.[ix]
The arrival of western missionaries meant a change in the Chinese view on homosexuality, for the first time it came to be seen as a harmful habit eroding traditional family values and posing a risk to society. Both territories’ cultural traditions are rooted in Confucianism, with Taoism and Buddhism also having been important in their religious traditions. None of these schools of thought have teachings about the negativity of homosexuality. According to Taoism, same-sex preferences are neither good nor bad, while some claim that Confucianism’s encouraging of close teacher to student relations might be supporting male-to-male affairs.[x] The family-centric aspect of Confucianism – worship of ancestors, filial piety and as part of it the continuation of the family line can also consider LGBTQ individuals as not living up to their family’s expectations. Without having children, they cannot provide the next generation to care for the ancestors and fail their responsibilities as such. In this manner they can view homosexuality as “sinful” just like conservative Christianity. However, the teachings of Confucianism have differing effects throughout East Asia, with some countries stressing different parts of the teaching as others – even in regard to the view on homosexuality. Singapore’s government refers to traditional Chinese culture and Confucian values when deeming homosexuality immoral, just like Taiwan’s conservative Christian groups do. [xi] On the other hand, a different group of Taiwanese claim that the tolerant attitudes of their population can be traced back to the open-minded religious traditions of Chinese culture.[xii]
Looking at the religious traditions of both regions, we can see a high level of tolerance of same-sex relations. It is more difficult to assess the current beliefs of the Mainland’s population, however, according to some survey’s the People’s Republic might be the most atheist country in the world.[xiii] But such results might be attributed to religious freedom being only provided in theory and the hostile attitudes of the government. [xiv] For this reason, religion might not affect Mainland Chinese attitudes as much as those of the Taiwanese.
There is more information on the religious views of the Taiwanese. According to their beliefs, most of the population claims to follow folk religion, they make up 35,5%, while 20% claim to be Buddhists and without religion. 16,6% identify as Taoist, 4,5% are Christian and 1,5% Catholic. This small proportion of Christians play an influential role in politics and their representatives are very vocal about their views on homosexuality.[xv] For this reason, this paper will only look at this group’s activism.
People’s Republic of China
A survey conducted by the UN Development Program with the Sociology Department of Beijing University and the Beijing LGBT Center can help assess the People’ Republic of China’s attitudes towards LGBTQ groups. In two months, the survey reached 30 000 respondents and provided a thorough picture of the challenges faced by China’s sexual and gender minorities along with the stance of the majority of the population on the fight of these groups for equal rights.[xvi]
The internet-based questionnaire reached most respondents through social media sites which implies that most of them were already connected to these minorities or were interested in their situation. This method did not access the older generations, those without internet access, and the rural populations, which all distort the results. The average age of respondents was at 22,7 years, more than half of them have undergraduate degrees and 80% reside in cities – they do not represent the majority population, especially when taken into account that two thirds of them identify as sexual or gender minorities.[xvii]
Further complicates the study of the treatment of LGBTQ groups that only 5% of Mainland China’s sexual and gender minorities are public about their identity of sexual orientation. Keeping their identity hidden does not make it possible to correctly assess how their environment sees them. In addition, the results of the survey show that they face most resentment within their families and not from their teachers, coworkers or members of their religious communities. However, without them being “out” or open about their sexuality it is difficult to measure the level of discrimination faced by them.[xviii]
The responses of the survey paint a better picture of the hardships and challenges faced by the LGBTQ community rather than the general population’s view on them. One of the most important issues they named is the lack of representation in the media, especially positive portrayals – mass media fails to provide a reliable presentation of these groups, not letting the majority of the population to base their views on these positive portrayals. This survey shows a typical pattern in the sense that the respondents who know LGBTQ individuals personally have much more positive views on them and are more likely to support their equal treatment. For this reason, the media could play a crucial role in improving the situation of these individuals and helping to increase their legal protections, by including their stories and experiences on film and television, bringing them closer to the general population.[xix]
Discrimination by medical personnel is another challenge, although the respondents acknowledge that mental health professionals are more likely to be informed about the needs of these groups and less likely to turn them away. Most of the respondents experienced some form of discrimination when accessing HIV/AIDS preventative services, especially in the rural regions of the country. HIV positive and transgender individuals are in the hardest position as the former are often refused treatment, while the latter do not receive the level of care needed in their situation.[xx]
One important distinction between Mainland China and Taiwan is the existence of laws protecting sexual and gender minorities from being discriminated against on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity that we see in Taiwan but not the People’s Republic. Without the regulations, there is no guarantee that these groups are treated equally in the workplace or at school, but there are initiatives on the part of individual firms providing training on LGBTQ issues.[xxi]
China’s political structure does not benefit gay rights activism. The Communist Party does not support any sort of activism regardless of the cause. This makes the work of these NGOs more difficult, we do not see the level of civil initiatives as in Western democracies which in turn leads to the general population not receiving enough reliable information through which they could develop favorable views on LBTQ individuals.[xxii]
In addition to the survey, attitudes of the Mainland’s population could also be discerned from the backlash against the social media site Weibo, which in April 2018 started a “cleansing” campaign, censuring all gay-related content on the sight, lumping homosexuality together with violence and pornography deeming it immoral and harmful to society. The heavy backlash led to the platform scrapping the censorship. This intense reaction is on one part a signal of the growing acceptance of homosexuality but is also in part thanks to the Chinese becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing internet censorship.[xxiii]
In conclusion, while the government is neither supporting nor attacking the rights of these groups, supporting them is not a priority. As there have not been enough surveys done on the attitudes of its population to compare it with Taiwan’s, the global survey done by ILGA-RIWI also needs to be taken into account. The next chapter will assess the results of the surveys conducted on the Mainland, as well as in Taiwan.
The Republic of China (unlike the Mainland) has been conducting surveys on the views of their population on sexual and gender minorities, which provides much more data and also makes it possible to look at the changes in attitudes throughout the years.
|1. Figure source: Taiwan Social Changes Survey|
The Taiwan Social Changes survey was conducted three times between 1991 and 2015 by the Humanities and Sociology Research Institute of Academia Sinica. It is clear from the responses that in little over a decade the ratio of those opposing and supporting marriage equality has reversed. While in 1991 57,96% percent of the respondents gave the answer “No” to the question “Should homosexuals enjoy the right to marry their same-sex partner?” by 2013 only 30,07% chose the same answer. The number of those who agreed with the statement grew from 11,37% percent to 52,56%. Two years later, in 2015 the same survey did not show such a difference, however, the respondents replying “I don’t know” has decreased compared to 2013 and it seems these people might have opted for the “No” answer this time. This might show that the topic of marriage equality is mentioned more often in recent years compared to 2013, with more people having opinions on it.[xxiv]
Yen-hsin Alice Cheng and her colleagues’ research in Chinese Sociology Review looked at the changing attitudes towards homosexuality between 1995 and 2012. From the data it is clear that the views on same-sex relations have been changing from generation to generation, the Taiwanese gradually becoming more and more open-minded. There is still a stark difference between the older and younger populations, those having university degrees and non-Christians, the latter being more tolerant. Like in many studies conducted outside of Taiwan, there is a clear connection between the quality of life of the respondents and their views on homosexuality.[xxv] Taiwan’s GNI per capita shows a growth of seventeen times between 1971 and 1990. [xxvi] In 1987, martial law has been lifted after 38 years and the island embarked on their road to democratization. In 1984, with the changes beginning in the financial and political situation of the island, the Social Changes Survey of Taiwan found that only 8% regarded homosexuality as “not wrong at all” while in 2009 19% chose the same answer. Those supporting marriage equality grew from almost 12% to 59% in 2012.[xxvii]
Even tough Taiwan is considered to be one of the most gay-friendly regions of Asia, from the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline’s LGBTI Policy Review one can see that they often face the same challenges we saw in the case of the People’s Republic. Choosing the right doctor is difficult in particular – partly because of their group specific needs in addition to the discrimination they are faced with when attending medical facilities. They also list negative treatment at work and school, even though Taiwan has had a Gender Equity in Education law in place since 2004.[xxviii]
As an interesting addition, Taiwan’s aboriginal population, currently at 2-3% were also known to possess tolerant views on same-sex relationships before the arrival of the Christian missionaries. The Paiwan ethnic group has different terms in their language for relationships between two men and two women and traditionally these unions were seen as normal. [xxix] In the case of the Rukai tribe we see a similar level of open-mindedness, in 2017, a lesbian couple got married with the support of their tribe and are now raising their children according to Rukai traditions. [xxx] However, Christian missionaries arriving from Europe have been most successful in converting these peoples and as Christian believers they do not hold favorable views of the LGBTQ community. [xxxi]
When comparing the attitudes of the two regions, it is worth looking at the global survey conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-RIWI) in 2017 which aimed to assess different countries’ views on sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions using an internet-based questionnaire. Respondents from the Mainland and Taiwan – approximately 1000 and 2000 people respectively, gave very similar answers. [xxxii] The ratio of those responding with “strongly agree” to the question of “Equal rights and protections should be applied to everyone, including people who are romantically or sexually attracted to people of the same sex” was 26% in the case of Taiwan and 27% for the Mainland Chinese, those responding with “neither agree or disagree” is also almost the same with 39% and 40%, while 9% and 7% chose “strongly disagree”. All other questions of the survey show a difference of only 1-2% in the views of the Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese populations.
Brief Gay’s rights history of Taiwan
After the comparison of the attitudes towards LGBTQ groups in the “two Chinas” this chapter gives a summary of Taiwan’s gays’ rights history – listing the most important events in chronological order that help illustrate how the current conversation of marriage rights has developed. These events, beginning from the eighties up until the most recent developments were the most influential in shaping the views of the Taiwanese people.
The first Chinese language novel dealing with the subject of male homosexuality was published in Taiwan in 1983. The bestseller Chrystal Boys has since been turned into a TV show in the early 2000s. In the same year Chi Chia-wei gays’ rights activist’s request to marry his partner has been refused – with Taipei’s district court referring to the abnormality and immorality of homosexuality.[xxxiii]
Taiwan’s LGBTQ activism can be traced back to the nineties. Between Us, the first lesbian group was established in 1990, while in 1996 two gay-friendly religious organizations began their work, the Tong-Kwang Light House Presbyterian church and the Buddhist Tong Fan Jin Sheh group. Also in 1996, the first public wedding was held between a same-sex couple – Hsu Yu-sheng Taiwanese author married his American partner Gary Harriman.[xxxiv]
The Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association was founded in 1998, providing assistance for Taiwan’s LGBTQ community and has eventually become one of the most important civil organizations to fight for increased legal protections for sexual and gender minorities, as well as doing important work in spreading reliable information on the challenges faced by these communities. In the same year, Ma Ying-jeou as mayor of Taipei supported the organization of LGBTQ related events in the city with one million dollars, becoming the first Taiwanese politician to openly support gay rights. However, during his presidency between 2008 and 2016 he did not mention the topic anymore.[xxxv]
The fight for the rights of sexual and gender minorities picked up in the early 2000s, when President Chen Shui-bian invited gay rights activists for a consultation and simultaneously the topic of marriage equality emerged for the first time in Taiwanese politics. Anette Lu, vice-president at the time and vocal women’s rights activist drafted a human rights law including an article that would have made it legal for same-sex couples to get married and adopt children. The bill was not passed however.[xxxvi]
The Taiwan Pride gay festival was first held in 2003 and by 2015 it has become the biggest such event in East Asia with 80 000 people attending. The first festival was financed with the help of the government but in later years it became funded by civil groups. 2004 saw the passing of the Gender Equity in Education act prohibiting schools from discriminating against their students based on their gender or sexual orientation.[xxxvii]
In 2006, DPP legislator Hsiao Bi-khim drew up and presented a proposed bill on marriage equality but it was challenged by 23 of her colleagues and was not passed. [xxxviii] In 2008 the subject came up again during the presidential campaign, Ma Ying-jeou from KMT and Frank Hieh-chang from the DPP both claimed to support same-sex marriage based on social consensus, meaning if it enjoyed the full support of the population.[xxxix]
Starting from 2011 as part of the Gender Equity in Education act, school materials must contain LGBTQ rights in order to fight discrimination.[xl] According to articles five and six of the Gender Equity in Education act, schools and local governments have to set up gender equity education committees which are tasked with providing LGBTQ friendly sexual education courses. The law stipulates the inclusion of affective education into the curriculum as well as adding lesbian and gay related topics into sex-education in order to increase children’s sensitivity towards diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.[xli]
The law by itself cannot guarantee equal treatment. In 2014, the Ministry of Education faced controversy for accepting two new members into the Gender Equity Committee openly opposing LGBTQ issues. The effectiveness of the courses also depend on the particular educator as there have been instances of schools abiding the law by providing such classes but not adhering to the quality of materials recommended by LGBTQ organizations. The teachers are the ones choosing what constitutes “normal” and “moral” while surveys have shown that in many occasions these educators did not receive the training needed to put together the sexual education courses that could truly improve the attitudes towards LGBTQ people.[xlii]
In the early 2010s, increasing the legal protections of LGBTQ groups are brought into the political conversation. By the time of the 2014 local elections, the candidates’ stances on sexual and gender identities becomes important partially because of the activism of LGBTQ organizations, with members that had important roles to play during the Sunflower Movement as well.[xliii] In the summer of 2015, both Kaohsiung and Taipei cities made it possible for same-sex couples to register their partnership in the household registration offices, this, however, did not provide them with the legal protections a marriage would. This led LGBTQ activist to believe that the step only served as a symbolic gesture, to buy the favor of these minorities in order to silence them, without actually supporting their fight for equality.[xliv]
Campaigning for the presidency in November 2015, Tsai Ing-wen voiced her support ahead of the annual Taiwan Pride, posting two videos in favor of marriage equality.[xlv] After her electoral win in 2016, however, she seemingly turned her back on the issue. In February 2017, she invited both LGBTQ activists as well as those opposing marriage equality for a discussion on the possible changing of Taiwan’s Civil Code. This step further discouraged activists working towards marriage equality as they believe such a consultation between her Catholic vice-president and anti-LGBTQ groups gives voice to discriminatory points of views, and as they see it the government should base their decision on case studies of those states that have put such laws in place.[xlvi]
On May 24 of 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled regarding the petition of Chi Chia-wei, that article 972 of the Civil Code restricting marriage to be between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. The ruling was agreed to by the twelve of the fourteen judges and gave two years for legislators to change the law accordingly, or in 2019 it automatically becomes legal.[xlvii]
The 2017 Pride Parade with its 123 000 attendees has become the biggest in East Asia. With the de facto Embassies of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Great Britain, Holland, Spain, Sweden and the United States also taking part, we see a list of states to whom Taiwan’s efforts human rights and democratic values could be attractive.[xlviii]
In August of 2018 ahead of the Gay Games to be opened in France, the People’s Republic of China pressured the organizers to not allow Taiwan’s flag to fly as well as to refer to the region as Chinese Taipei.[xlix] The step is only one of the recent examples of Mainland China’s growing assertiveness with which it signals to the international community that Taiwan is still considered to be a part of their territory.
Opposition to the Court’s ruling
The influence Taiwan’s Christian groups have on politics as well as in shaping the opinions of the population is out of proportion to their numbers – as only 5% of the Taiwanese claim to be Christian. Even so, these groups pose the biggest threat to the fight for LGBTQ rights, vocally opposing the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Their influence in this sense goes back to the eighteenth century when the first European missionaries started arriving on the island and bringing with them the teaching of homosexuality’s sinful nature. This meant a turning point in Taiwan’s history when same-sex relations came to be seen in a negative light as opposed to their acceptance seen in the island’s previous belief systems.
Those opposing the change of the civil code, as well as those seeing it as a way to gain more soft power are both stressing Taiwan’s exemplary role in the East-Asian region. Joanna Lei, the head of Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank argues that “some places are waiting for Taiwan to set the example. If Taiwan falls, then the rest of Asia will fall.” Both parties emphasize the importance the decision could have on East Asia’s future with those in the opposition seeing it as a negative example. Others argue the possible strain the decision could put on the government. If citizens widowed after losing their same-sex spouses were entitled for social benefits that would pose a great burden for the government as these minorities are less likely to have children taking care of them.[l]
In the view of the Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families, in addition to LGBTQ organizations brainwashing the future generations, in their opinion, sexual and gender minorities would not even want to get married, leading such sexually liberated lives. They deem it infuriating that city governments would finance such events that go “against public order and good morals” by “seducing children” and “corrupting traditional culture”.[li]
Family protection groups organized protests in both November and December of 2017 which – according to MassResistance, a Massachusetts based organization fighting marriage-equality internationally[lii] – 150 000 people participated in. MassResistance as well as other groups also regularly raise their voices against the LGBT-laced sex-ed curriculum[liii].
The opposition of these groups pose a serious threat to the success of changing the Civil Code – in the February of 2018 Chang Shou-yi, head of the Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families has filed two petitions to the Highest Court, arguing that Chi Chia-wei’s filing for the change in the Civil code contained legal errors and was unconstitutional.[liv]
In the spring of 2018 the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance initiated a referendum to be held on three questions, one regarding same-sex marriage and two on LGBTQ materials taught as part of sexual education. Out of the needed 281 745 signatures they have collected 1800 valid ones.[lv] In the view of LGBTQ activists, however, a referendum could easily lead to false results and they believe that the propaganda exploiting people’s fears practiced by these religious groups does not allow for the average citizen to make well-informed choices. They do not possess the critical thinking needed to assess the true consequences of the changing the Civil Code.[lvi]
When assessing Taiwanese attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities, there seems to be an increasing level of tolerance starting from the nineties until today. Many civil organizations and activists have helped bring about this change by fighting for legal protections, providing and disseminating information, gradually affecting the general population’s view on LGBTQ groups. The inclusion of LGBTQ friendly materials into the sexual education curriculum played an important role in this process, as well as the island’s democratic institutions and free atmosphere.
While there is much less information on the way Mainland Chinese see these minorities, from the surveys conducted it appears that the two populations are similarly tolerant towards different sexual orientations. There is a clear contrast between each generation’s view on LGBTQ issues, younger people being more open-minded. The treatment of sexual and gender minorities by the two governments also shows differences – the People’s Republic of China not having any legal protections in place.
The level of tolerance on the population’s part might be rooted in Chinese cultural traditions – Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, the most important schools of thought in the region, are all known to be more permissive towards same-sex relations than conservative Christianity. Even though many studies have proven the existence of homosexual partnerships throughout East Asian histories[lvii], there still seems to be criticism regarding the fight for LGBTQ rights as Western-only movements, their appearance in Asia is only down to imitation and a need to be similar to the West.
Homosexuality is just as present in the East as the West, and while as of now there are no Asian countries with existing laws on marriage equality, the support of the population – above 50% – is higher than what we see in the case of the Middle East or African states. The hypothetical agenda on the part of Taiwan’s government, to gain soft power for the island by supporting LGBTQ rights does enjoy the support of the majority of its citizens. However, there remains a heavy opposition to the broadening of the legal protections of these minorities on the part of Christian groups (mostly financed by American sources) and even though Christians are only 5% of the population they are very vocal when it comes to expressing their opinions and have measurable influence on Taiwan’s politics.
The governing DPP and current President Tsai Ing-wen both seem to have turned away from the issue since their campaign ahead of the presidential elections in 2015 and 2016 as an opposition party. One reason for this can be the upcoming local elections to be held in November 2018 – as a governing party suffering from decreasing popularity, it does not seem to be in their favor to support divisive issues, as they are not willing to lose any supporters. In addition to the domestic factors, the international atmosphere has also changed – with the election win of Donald Trump standing up for LGBTQ rights might not be the most effective way for Taiwan to gain the good favors of the United States. As opposed to the Obama administration legalizing marriage equality, the current government does not show support for the issue so in order for Taiwan to gain more soft power, it does not seem to be a logical step.
The original hypothesis of this research, being that support for the rights and with that painting Taiwan as the most gay friendly territory in the region was part of a conscious strategy on the part of DPP seems to be incorrect in a sense that while the party seemed to be in support of this issue during their campaign, currently (as a governing party) these topics have lost their priority. DPP having been labeled as pro-independence compared to Kuomintang, has most likely intended to distance itself by diversifying the social conversation with bringing back topics such as the issue of same-sex marriage and winning the support of the younger generations. Currently, however, with their majority in the Legislative Yuan and the upcoming elections in November, standing behind such divisive topics seems overly hazardous.
author: Fanni Maráczi
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