LGBT Rights in Taiwan: What Travellers Should Know Before Going [Part 1]

Written by Queer in the World.

Image credit:  一對兒女的爸 by Phil Wong 黄飛立 /Flickr, license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Definitely a step (or several!) off the beaten track, there’s plenty to be discovered in Taiwan, an island with a fascinating mix of Chinese, Japanese and Western influences and food that will keep your mouth watering for months afterwards.

Travellers here will find stunning landscapes, from sea cliffs, soaring mountains, clear blue Pacific waters and gravity-defying rock formations. There’s also Taipei, a bustling city with excellent infrastructure. Which brings us to the other interesting thing about Taiwan – its civil society and democracy (standing somewhat in contrast to its huge neighbour China with it’s more questionable LGBT rights).

With such a liberal society, Taiwan must be a good place for gay travellers, right? It’s true that it is the most gay friendly nation in Asia. There’s a relatively open stance on LGBT rights in Taiwan and travellers certainly should feel comfortable visiting – not least because people are so welcoming they don’t really care about sexual orientation.

It’s always good to know more details on the situation in countries before visiting, so this guide aims to provide a summary of the situation for LGBT rights in Taiwan to help travellers prepare for a trip to this unique country.

The Legal Situation In Gay Taiwan

Interestingly, homosexuality has technically never been illegal in Taiwan. The age of consent is the same for both homosexual and heterosexual couples (16 year-old).

There have been a range of anti-discrimination laws in place in the fields of employment and education since 2007 and 2004 respectively. In fact, since 2011 school curriculums have included topics promoting tolerance and LGBT rights.

The debate over same-sex marriage has been going on since 2003 when the executive branch of the government started to prepare legislation to allow gay marriage. That attempted stalled and was not voted on; there was then another failed attempt between 2014 and 2016.

Meanwhile, the movement in support of gay marriage was growing in Taiwan with publicity events like the biggest same-sex wedding party ever in 2011. Even the former president Tsai Ing-wen announced her support before a general election.

Finally, in 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the marriage clauses stating that marriage was between a man and a woman were unconstitutional, given that the constitution states that all freedoms and rights should be granted to all people. The panel of judges gave the government 2 years to legalize same-sex marriage, which would make it the first country in Asia to legalise gay marriage.

This was a huge step forward, although there was a serious setback in November 2018 when voters rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum that posed five questions on the topic. Although not legally binding, this disappointing result in public opinion could shake the resolve of some lawmakers.

The Social Situation In LGBT Taiwan

As the result of the 2018 referendum show, the social situation of LGBT rights in Taiwan is complicated. While people generally have a ‘live and let live’ attitude, this result shows that true open-mindedness is still a bit further away (although many believe there was a flood of misinformation spread by conservative campaigns to skew the vote).

The good news is, according to a 2016 study, tolerance towards homosexuality in Taiwan increased 132% between 1995 and 2012 and Taiwan’s reputation as the most gay-friendly country in Asia is certainly more than justified by this and its thriving gay community.

There have been annual Pride events in Taipei since 2003 and the country has come a long way from those first ones when people wore masks to hide their identity. The 2018 pride had 137,000 joyful marchers.

The positive trend in attitudes could be down to improvement in education as more people have access to higher education and so are more open to new ideas; additionally, young people are growing up with stronger links to the outside world and so are more socially aware.

However another study showed that Taiwanese people were less likely to be tolerant of gay members of their own family with 38.7% saying they couldn’t accept a homosexual family member. This shows that there are still some ingrained prejudices and a certain amount of misunderstandings about the gay community – sadly something reflected in the 2018 referendum result.

Nevertheless, there is considerable hope that attitudes will continue to improve.

Trans Rights In Taiwan

In 2014 the Taiwanese government promised they would no longer require transgender people to have surgery in order to change legal gender (a requirement that had been in place since 2008) – however, this process dragged on to 2018 and as it stands is still compulsory.

Excitingly, the government also proposed a ‘3rd gender’ option on ID cards and passports in 2018, something which maintains the progressive status of LGBT rights in Taiwan.

Despite these steps being taken in terms of legislation, there is still little understanding of trans rights in wider society. Transgender Taiwanese citizens face daily struggles including domestic violence, workplace discrimination and family conflict.

It’s one of those things where education is absolutely key and with public figures like minister Audrey Tang there is hope that members of the trans community could become more accepted.

So What Does This Mean For Gay Travellers?

Although there are challenges for LGBT citizens, gay travellers to the country can feel confident that they’ll find a warm welcome, some great gay nights out and the biggest gay scene in all of Asia.

It’s been this way for years, to be honest, but only recently has it become an international LGBT travel destination and gay travellers should feel encouraged to visit and lend support.

Visitors will notice a relatively high number of gay couples out and about, perhaps even getting a little close in a bar, but it’s worth highlighting here that in general public displays of affection are not big in Taiwan. That’s why gay travellers to Taiwan should be aware of where they are to ensure they are not embarrassing people around – it’s rarely hostile, but people here will feel a bit embarrassed by both heterosexual and homosexual displays of smooching!

Queer In The World is a blog and online resource for gay and lesbian travellers who want to explore the world. We don’t believe ‘being gay’ should define our choice of destination or travel choices – but having gay and gay-friendly hotel stays, nightlife, events, and sightseeing can enhance travel, increase awareness of LGBT issues and help us become a globally connected family. This article is a re-post from the website and the original post is here

After a long battle, same sex marriage was finally legalised in Taiwan on 17 May 2019, and parliament was asked to pass the change within the following week. In this special issue, Taiwan Insight shares the experiences of those who witnessed this historical moment and looks at some of the driving forces that led to this momentous breakthrough.

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