Taiwan hosts biggest in-person LGBTQ Pride event of post-Covid 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan — An estimated 130,000 people attended Taiwan LGBT Pride on Saturday, making it the world’s biggest in-person celebration of gay rights since the pandemic began.

The high turnout reinforced Taiwan’s image as a beacon of gay rights in Asia and one of the world’s safest places in the coronavirus era.

“I feel that Taiwan has really set an example, to be able to have a normal life and also to continue with this Pride event even though the world is not able to come this year,” said Eve Teo, 34, who lives in Taipei.

Participants march through a street during a pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan, on Oct. 31, 2020.Chiang Ying-ying / AP

In a year in which many global gay pride events have been canceled or moved online, Taiwan’s parade kicked off from outside Taipei City Hall, as scheduled, on the last Saturday in October.

Organizers said they expected it to be the biggest Pride event to take place this year since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic in March.

The event was a colorful testament to Taiwan’s successful control of the coronavirus. The island of 24 million people has seen just 554 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including seven deaths, and no lockdowns. Taiwan’s last locally transmitted infection was recorded in April.

Chen Yen-shuo and his friend give free hugs to anyone who wants one at Taiwan LGBT Pride.Louise Watt / for NBC News

Organizers asked participants to wear masks, although many didn’t. Wearing a mask was Chen Yen-shuo, 25, who held up a sign offering “free hugs.” The software engineer from Taichung said the pandemic wasn’t stopping people from hugging a stranger: He gave more than a hundred hugs in about an hour and a half, he said.

Democratic Taiwan is a trailblazer for gay rights in Asia. In May last year, it became the first — and still only — place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Since then, more than 4,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot in Taiwan.

On Friday, two gay couples were, for the first time, among dozens taking part in the Taiwan army’s annual mass wedding ceremony. The army posted on Facebook wedding photos of the couples, and those of the two female soldiers and their civilian partners by far received the most likes from the public.

“You defend our country, we defend your freedom,” read one comment.

Last year, organizers estimated 200,000 people marched to celebrate Taiwan’s legalization of same-sex marriage. This year, fewer people could travel from elsewhere in Asia to attend the event because Taiwan’s borders are closed to tourists. Anyone who does enter must self-isolate for 14 days.

Liu Chun-chieh, 34, who works in e-commerce and was dressed as a Greek warrior, said the event was important for the region at large.

“Taiwan just legalized same-sex marriage last year, and there still hasn’t been a second country in Asia to do so, so I think this parade is really important for Asia,” Liu said. “We first reached the milestone, and we can help others to march forward and take the next step, and make more people in Asia care about this aspect of human rights.”

An Elephant God is among revellers at Taiwan’s annual pride, which attracted 130,000 people.Louise Watt / for NBC News

Even though gay men and women have the right to marry in Taiwan, activists say discriminatory attitudes still need to change as well as the law. In one example, a Taiwanese person can only marry a foreigner of the same sex if same-sex marriage is also legal in the foreigner’s home country. In addition to Taiwan, only 28 countries around the world allow same-sex marriage.

As the government’s measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 have included barring the entry of many foreigners, this has meant some same-sex couples have been forced apart this year.

Among those unable to marry in Taiwan are Olivia Wu and her partner Eve Teo, who is from Singapore, where a law banning consensual sex between men is still on the books.

A drag queen performs during Asia’s biggest pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan, on Oct. 31, 2020.Ann Wang / Reuters

“Singapore hasn’t legalized same-sex marriage, so us deciding to live here in Taiwan, that has really affected us,” said Wu, a Taiwanese American from Los Angeles. The couple were marching with Wu’s parents.

“As a community, we’re still very proud and obviously happy that Taiwan is the only country that recognizes this, but we just feel like there’s that part where we’re not complete yet,” Wu, 35, said.

Activists are also fighting for equal adoption and assisted-reproduction rights. At the moment, Taiwan’s law only allows for married same-sex couples to adopt children who are biologically related to one of the partners. Reese Li, secretary general of Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy, said there were at least 300 LGBTQ families in Taiwan who had adopted children or had assisted reproduction abroad.

Taiwan’s best-known gay rights activist, Chi Chia-wei, waves a rainbow flag outside Taipei City Hall, where the parade kicked off.Louise Watt / for NBC News

Chi Chia-wei, an activist who had been campaigning for marriage equality in Taiwan since the 1980s, said this year’s parade was less about protest, and more about education regarding LGBTQ issues and equality.

“In schools, they don’t teach children that after same-sex marriage is passed, there will be a lot of LGBT families,” he said. “They don’t let children understand this, and so there needs to be more effort to strengthen this.”

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