Written by Phan Van Tim
Taiwan is not just a renowned home to the high-tech semiconductor industry, which plays a vital role in the global supply chain. It is also the most LGBTQ+-friendly home, at least on the Asian continent, as over 70 per cent of LGBTQ+ visitors to Taiwan got “more confident and safe to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation”.
It has been nearly three years since the Legislative Yuan passed the same-sex marriage bill in 2019, making Taiwan the first and only nation to do so in Asia. So far, over 5,000 same-sex couples have registered for marriage in Taiwan, fulfiling their love of being protected by law. At the same time, the public’s view on the LGBTQ+ community has rapidly changed, with more than 60% of people expressing support for same-sex marriage, compared with the percentage of only 37.4 before same-sex marriage legalization.
The overall picture of Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ movement in 2021
The most remarkable achievement for Taiwanese LGBTQ+ activists in 2021 is that the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan was selected as the host of WorldPride in 2025 — the international festival that attracts millions of participants worldwide. This victory rapidly came into the international limelight since it was the first time the biennial WordPride event was held in an East Asian country.
The selection of Taiwan is a landmark victory for its own LGBTQ+ advocates and a wake-up call for LGBTQ+ communities and human rights organizations in Asia. For Taiwan, winning to convene WorldPride will cement its image as a beacon of marriage equality and recognize Taiwan as a leader for human rights in the region. Julian Sanjivan, co-president of InterPride–the owner of WorldPride, emphasized that “bringing WorldPride to East Asia for the first time will significantly impact the much-needed visibility and awareness of human rights for the LGBTQIA+ community”.
2021 also marked the first time Taiwan’s LGBTQ Pride parade was held online due to the COVID-19 situation and the government’s pandemic-related restrictions. At this event, LGBTQ+ groups across the archaeology called for friendliness, understanding and respect, implying that despite being accepted by law, the LGBTQ+ people of Taiwan are continuously vulnerable to some pressure, including anti-gay sentiments. On Facebook, President Tsai Ing-wen remarked that Taiwanese society was addressing the issue and “working hard to turn differences into similarities and turn the past’s minorities into everyday normality”.
On the legal front, two unprecedentedly prominent cases of winning transnational same-sex marriage lawsuits are noteworthy as triumphs in 2021 for Taiwanese LGBTQ+ activists. First, being rejected from marriage applications in Taiwan, Taiwanese-Macanese and Taiwanese-Singaporean couples filed their lawsuit. Because Taiwan’s current laws do not allow a transnational same-sex partner to register for marriage in Taiwan if one comes from a country that considers same-sex marriage illegal, the marriages of two couples can only happen after the Taipei High Administrative Court’s ruling.
But those cases are just applied to specific same-sex couples, not for all. That means LGBTQ+ foreigners still face legal challenges to have marriage conducted in Taiwan.
Cognizant of such constraint, in January, the Judicial Yuan approved a draft revision to article 46 of the Act Governing the Choice of Law in Civil Matters Involving Foreign Elements to allow a cross-border same-sex partner to enter into marriage in Taiwan but requiring one of them must be Taiwanese citizen. However, the amendment remains contentious. In addition, there are issues to tackle, such as no marriage recognition between foreign residents of Taiwan if either one or both is from a country where same-sex marriage is not legal. Moreover, it means no allowance Taiwanese Chinese same-sex couples for marriage. Fortunately, the former problem seems to be addressed to allow cross-strait same-sex marriage as the Mainland Affairs Council legally will touch the issue. Those steps, however, would pave the way for potential and progressive shifts towards marriage equality in Taiwanese society.
The court ruling that allowed Xiao E, a transgender woman, to change her gender legally without providing a medical surgery certificate might be another legal victory for Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ communities. Due to the 2008 order of the Ministry of the Interior, should Taiwanese transgender folk be eager to change their preferred gender, they have to present two separate psychiatric evaluations and proof of reassignment surgery as prerequisites. However, the former requirement makes transgender marker change difficult because of high surgical expenses and the risk of surgery. In the statement after the ruling, the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR)—a non-governmental organization serving LGBTQ+ people—hailed the victory as significant to transgender rights. Moreover, it urged the government to promptly amend the unconstitutional directive to prevent “transgender people from continuing to live under the risk and pain of being forced to come out.”
Despite some positive developments for gender equality, gay Taiwanese still suffer different hurdles that stem from the legal framework and daily life, limiting them to enjoy fundamental human rights and slowing down Taiwan’s goal of “building a more inclusive society”. For instance, same-sex couples do not have the right to jointly adopt a child unless the child is biologically connected to the gay couple. Furthermore, they are not allowed to have a child using artificial reproductive technology. In addition, many transgender people are still confronted with problems at work, such as finding a job, accessing the toilet, and complying with uniform regulations. Besides, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ indigenous people, who are called a “double minority”, are simultaneously facing twofold discrimination based on their sexual orientation and race.
Hopefully, those obstacles limiting LGBTQ+ rights will be cautiously relaxed under the final two years of Tsai’s second-term presidency, given the unwavering support from Taiwanese officials and the gradual shift of Taiwanese people’s attitudes, especially the young generation, on same-sex marriage. The 2021 survey conducted by the Taiwan Equality Campaign found that the support increased sharply in terms of current legal barriers facing same-sex couples. The survey found that 56 per cent of respondents supported transnational same-sex marriages, compared to 53.8 per cent in the last poll. In addition, a full of 59 per cent of respondents said that they support the adoption of children by same-sex married partners while supporting same-sex married couples to have a child via assisted reproductive technology increased from 42,1 per cent in 2020 to 44,8 per cent in 2021.
The trajectory ahead
Despite standing for a frontier of equal rights, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ citizens still face a set of challenges in daily life. There is still a long way to go. Hence, they would likely need to fight for their rights and an equal and inclusive society. To realize this ambition, LGBTQ+ advocates and the Taiwanese government should enhance dialogues and take more concerted actions towards guaranteeing the full rights of LGBTQ+ people. This would include raising social awareness, creating a more LGBTQ+-friendly environment, and responding decisively to any discrimination and social stigma. As aptly put by Jennifer Lu, Executive Director of Taiwan Equality Campaign, “fighting for equality may never end, but I strongly believe that every effort matters”.
Given the lack of concrete approach and loose linkages of LGBTQ+ communities in East Asia, Taiwanese LGBTQ+ groups–with over 35-year history struggling for gender equality–should collaborate with other countries’ gay communities to “share and learn” valuable experiences. Furthermore, they should take gay diplomacy more serious and determined to advance the LGBTQ+ movement. Moreover, they should forge a so-called “Rainbow Alliance” as a platform to push for equality in the region and beyond. By doing so, Taiwan could convey its “Taiwan Can Help” motto in ensuring LGBTQ+ rights and enhance its international image.
Phan Van Tim is a research assistant at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. His main fields of interest are Taiwanese democracy, cross-Strait relations, and Taiwan’s foreign relations.
This article was published as part of a special issue titled ‘Taiwan 2022: Reflections, Predictions and Trends”.