Written by Ting-Fai Yu
image credit: KOKUYO, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Taiwan’s LGBT community made international headlines last year when the southern city of Kaohsiung won the bid over Washington D.C. to host WorldPride in 2025. More than 300 member organisations anonymously voted on the decision during the Annual General Meeting of InterPride – a US-based organisation representing pride events globally. Except for Jerusalem in 2006, WorldPride has consistently been held in North American and Western Europe cities. Since the inaugural event in 2000, it tended to be the largest LGBT pride globally in the years when it took place. In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, the 2019 New York City edition recorded five million participants, making it the biggest LGBT celebration in history. WorldPride Taiwan 2025 will be of historical significance: It will be the first time WorldPride takes place in the East and Southeast Asia region.
Moreover, a Taiwanese city outside Taipei is hosting a pride event on such a large scale for the first time. According to Guzifer Leong, the Standing Director of Kaohsiung Pride (the bidding organisation), the success reflects InterPride members’ growing preference for moving WorldPride to the non-western parts of the world. In fact, many civil society groups, especially those based in Asia, provided supporting letters during the application process, indicating their commitments to facilitating the event’s realisation. In light of these precedents and the event’s international relevance, it is interesting to consider how WorldPride might contribute to the local LGBT development and Taiwan’s place in global queer politics.
Unquestionably, the global visibilities of Taiwan’s recent human rights achievements, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2019, must have contributed to the voting members’ confidence in having WorldPride held there. However, while Taiwan’s LGBT development has served as an exemplar to which many non-Western countries, especially those in Asia, aspire, it is essential to note that progressive legal changes are not necessarily representative of how queerness is lived culturally. This is especially regarding individuals outside Taipei. Although most Taiwanese cities now hold their regional editions of gay pride, Taipei’s development as a queer city continues to dominate the representation of Taiwan’s sexual progress. Whenever international media reports on queer lives in Taiwan, it most often focuses on the experiences and happenings in Taipei. The city’s identity as Asia’s gay capital owes to the vibrant commercial gay scene as well as the major queer events taking place there, such as the annual Taiwan Pride and the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival. It is also home to prominent advocacy groups, including the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, which has served the queer Taiwanese community in the last decades. While the recent pro-LGBT legislation (e.g., same-sex marriage) has further enabled queer Taiwanese to gain public recognition, their metrocentric visibilities do not necessarily result in greater cultural autonomy in many parts of everyday life. To give but one example, many LGBT people, old and young, are still closeted to their family members and colleagues at work due to the pervasive presence of patriarchal and heterosexist norms that are left unchanged by legal advancements. For many, being queer has less to do with celebrating differences than struggling for everyday survival, especially those who are likely embedded in heteronormative kinship and social networks outside Taipei.
In this regard, WorldPride Taiwan 2025 is significant because it would be one of the first (if not the first) LGBT events of such a large scale to specialise a non-Taipei city in Taiwanese queer geographies while centring Taiwan in global sexual politics. By hosting the main event in Kaohsiung, it could potentially achieve two things to advance LGBT movements locally and transnationally. On the one hand, it would be an opportunity to not only expand but provincialise our understandings of queer lives and cultures in Taiwan, highlighting LGBT struggles in areas where people have considerably less access to resources than their counterparts in the North. On the other hand, besides representing queer Taiwan beyond frameworks that heavily reference Taipei, the event would also make Kaohsiung a node of transnational queer connections. For example, by celebrating global LGBT solidarity, WorldPride has a long tradition of pushing forward the host cities’ inclusive developments through gay tourism. This was, for instance, strategically executed at the first event in Rome in July 2000, i.e., at the centre of Catholicism during the Vatican’s Jubilee commemorating 2000 years of Christianity. Like the preceding editions, it is foreseen that WorldPride Taiwan 2025 will attract many LGBT tourists (especially those coming from other parts of Asia), whose presence would further Kaohsiung’s development as a queer city.
On the other, the event can potentially enable new and sustainable relationships between Taiwan-based and international pride organisers, especially those from InterPride’s Region 19 network, which comprises South, East, and Southeast Asia countries. In contrast to the experiences in Euro-American contexts, most LGBTIQ individuals in Asia are still affected by draconian laws (especially those that are legacies of British colonialism, such as Penal Code 377) and/or homophobic treatments enforced by cultural norms (in the absence of protective laws). By leveraging its hosting location, WorldPride Taiwan 2025 would be a rare opportunity to connect queer Asians and spotlight their struggles which have been underrepresented in most international pride events. Therefore, it is of interest to ask: how might WorldPride Taiwan 2025 be envisioned as an Asian, as much as a Taiwan, event and be relevant to diverse LGBT activist agendas in the region?
While Taiwan’s progressive legal development is aspired by many, it is still an unfinished project. For example, while same-sex marriage has already been legalised for three years and is ever more celebrated, the law still restricts Taiwanese citizens from marrying foreign same-sex partners from countries where same-sex marriage is not legal. Needless to say, this is a situation heterosexual couples do not face. The absence of legal recognition of these loving relationships has continued to separate many during this Pride Month. Regardless of how local LGBT rights will develop over the coming years, WorldPride 2025 will undoubtedly be an unprecedented occasion that centres Taiwan in global queer politics. Therefore, it is hoped that Taiwan will live up to its human rights commitments and eliminate differential treatment of people of different sexual orientations.
Ting-Fai Yu is an Adjunct Lecturer at Monash University Malaysia and an Associate Researcher at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China. His research explores queer identities and cultures in Sinophone Asia.
This article was published as part of a special issue on “Queer Taiwan”