Showing posts with label equal_rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label equal_rights. Show all posts

Friday, July 12, 2019

No, China is not more gender-equal than Taiwan

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I don't have a relevant cover photo so enjoy this picture of an antique shop in Taipei


People often ask me why I've chosen to settle in Taiwan, or why I've stayed here so long but only spent a year in China.

I point out that while I have always found people in China to mostly be friendly and hospitable, the food ridiculously good and culturally and historically it's fascinating, there are a few things I just can't stomach which make it difficult for me to live there. One is political freedom (including practical matters like easily getting online to access the open Internet, or just being able to speak your mind publicly without fear). Another is the pollution. Still another, I say, is sexism.

"Wait, China is more sexist than Taiwan?" is a common reply. "But everyone knows women in Shanghai have more power than men!" But "Mao said that 'women hold up half the sky'"? But "there are more women in STEM fields in China than Taiwan!" And once, memorably - "but it's much easier to get reproductive health care in China!" (In Taiwan both birth control and abortions are available but one isn't covered by national health insurance and the other is somewhat restricted). 

Without denying that these claims are true - except possibly that stereotype about Shanghai - I still say that China is absolutely less gender-equal or even friendly to women than Taiwan. Why?

Let's start here: a few hard numbers.

Taiwan tops Asia in gender equality (meaning it's ranked higher than China), as a higher literacy rate (98% with a 2% gap between men and women as opposed to China's 96.3% with a larger gender gap, if that number can be trusted). The wage gap in China is (likely) around 22%whereas it's around 14.5% in Taiwan. So just by the numbers China is simply not more gender-equal than Taiwan. 


* * *

Yet the arguments persist, so let's take a look at them, starting with the oft-repeated "but Mao said women hold up half the sky!' and 'whatever male comrades can do, women can too!"


He did say those things, though it takes a lot of soft-focus wishful thinking to think that those goals were fully realized, or that they have brought about a contemporary China that is "more" gender-equal than Taiwan.

And it's true that women's participation in the workforce skyrocketed under Mao, with more women doing traditionally masculine jobs. And as universal primary education (which included girls) was a goal of the CCP under Mao, and that goal was eventually met, we can surmise that literacy rates improved as well (on a tight schedule I can't find anything specific about this but it seems to be a safe assumption - and as far as I can tell there isn't any clear gender equality data from that era). However, even then there was great variation in literacy rates. As late as the 1980s, rural and older women sometimes had literacy rates below 3%. And the Marriage Law of 1950 did seek to end concubinage, promote freely-chosen (read: love) marriage and allow divorce (but don't think that's the end of that story).

Beyond that, what you get when you try to defend this position is propaganda-tinged, oversimplified and not wholly justifiable. It is not an obvious conclusion that Mao's reforms would necessarily include gender equality, as Marxism and Leninism are all about eradicating class differences and don't necessarily say anything about the patriarchy as male domination (in fact, the number of self-styled Communist men I've met who are sexist as hell and don't even realize it is...less surprising than you'd think.) In any case, one of the greatest obstacles to setting up Mao's ultimately disastrous 'ideal' was the resistance to ending traditional gender roles.

It's even been argued - and I'd agree - that discourses that have been touted as 'ensuring gender equality' in Communist China were actually used to silence discussions of gender, depoliticize gender as an issue, and make it difficult or impossible to debate or acknowledge gender inequality or advocate for improvements. Rather than make male and female equal, the point was to erase the female. In any case, it's hard to say that the CCP ever really stood behind gender equality when, through its entire rule in China, women have never been at the helm of power. That's not the case in Taiwan.

In fact, by 1953, here's where Mao's China was in relation to gender equality:

...the government realized that the economy could no longer absorb the amount of labor power that it had mobilized. Besides, the implementation of the new
Marriage Law, unlike the Land Law, brought about strong and widespread opposition from male members of the society. Murder and suicide of women who sought to
terminate their marriage reached such a high level that the government decided that collective stability rather than individual freedom, particularly freedom of women, was
now to be given priority.
 
For the next several years, there were more stiff regulations about divorce, and the government advocated women’s domestic duties and the importance of harmonious family life. Campaigns were launched to encourage women to be socialist housewives and model mothers, emphasizing the domestic responsibilities of
women. 

The situation did improve from there, with women brought back into the workforce soon after (though mostly to do work more typically associated with women - think caregiving work, kindergarten teaching etc.) This persisted - discussed in the link above - through the Cultural Revolution. Overall gains can be seen but they were "mixed" and "inconsistent". (From there this source starts to sound like it's trying to prove that Mao-style Communism was better for women than...not that, and that's where I get off that train.)

In any case, looking at the legacy of Mao-era China, it doesn't seem like it's done modern China much good. Female leaders? Nah. Wage equality? As a link in the next part shows....nah. As late as the 1990s, it hadn't put women on truly equal footing in education or employment. Workplace equality remains a massive issue. As of today, women in China are sometimes - perhaps often - treated more like sex objects or a dating market in Chinese workplaces. Education equality? Mostly yes, until you hit the PhD level, which is another way of saying "not entirely". The article gets it just right: being educated (up through Master's level) is a plus in East Asia, and desireable in 'wives' in more affluent circles. Getting a PhD, however? Well then you're just a terrifying, genderless freak who scares men away and clearly doesn't prioritize family and children. (This can be a problem in other countries too - it's not unique to China).

I'm sorry, but I just find the notion that because Mao said a thing one time, that this thing was true of China in his time, or is true of China now.




* * *


Although it's arguably the least meaningful of the arguments listed above, I want to talk about the whole "Superwomen of Shanghai" stereotype next. Even if it were true, one exceptional city doesn't make up for an entire nation of patriarchy. And I have serious doubts that it's true. The marriage market (a literal, physical market) in Shanghai is famous, and filled parents and grandparents trawling for spouses for their offspring. I could accept that as a 'cultural thing', but it's clear that the offspring in question aren't entirely pleased about it: 


"Does your daughter know you're here?" I ask. 
"Yes. But she hates it. She tells me to go on the dates myself. Kids these days hate parental involvement in these matters," Tsai says.

And there's no denying that these marriages are not actually based on people the younger generation might actually want to marry, but something more oriented to the family and their reputation:
Marriage already is such an important part of a Chinese family's reputation but parents these days only have one chance to get their future planned out right.


That too, I could accept if it were a way of doing things that every generation - including the one being married off - had signed on for. But it clearly isn't. While most Chinese women probably do just want to find love and have a family like most people around the world - it's a very human desire - but it seems clear to me that these sorts of tactics (among others) aren't 'traditional' so much as 'last resort' aimed more at fulfilling specific life goals (such as wanting a family) and societal expectations, as well as making older relatives happy than at actually finding love. In any case, I'm not convinced marriage is a good deal for women in most parts of the world, and China is no exception.

(If you're wondering how I can say that as a happily married woman, it's because I happened to get ridiculously lucky. My expectations of a feminist, egalitarian marriage are stratospherically high and the chances of finding a man who'd be on board with them, whom I otherwise loved and loved me back, were actually quite slim.)

So it's hard for me to agree that Shanghai is some beacon of women's equality when one of the most unfeminist events in the world takes place there. Besides, while I've heard that line a lot, it's always been anecdotal and from an 'orientalist' perspective (as this is), not proof of a real trend.  I haven't seen any data to back it up, nor is it clear that any exists. If anything, I've seen the opposite - the gender wage gap may be narrower in Shanghai, but it still exists. There seems to be a lot of talk about how "Shanghai husbands do housework" but no research into whether or not this is actually true.

What there is a lot of, however, is propaganda without any real proof: 





Because come on, it's not like we can trust Global Times, Shanghai Daily or China Daily (I wouldn't trust The Star, which is Malaysian, either.)

It sounds to me like perhaps Shanghai's relatively urban and international culture as compared to the rest of China has maybe (maybe) resulted in a slightly better social contract for women, and that was turned into this whole thing where "in Shanghai, women have it better than men!" because apparently giving women something just a little bit better than utter garbage is equivalent to giving them the sun, moon and stars more making them "superior". And it surely doesn't mean the rest of China is doing particularly well:
The current situation of gender equality can be read with certain global indicators. China’s Gender Development Index is situated in Group 2 out of five groups of countries, and estimates its Gender Gap at 0.945 on a scale of 0 to 1, 0 being the most unequal and 1 the most equal. The female Human Development Index is at 0.718 and the male’s HDI is at 0.753 (United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Reports Table 4: Gender Development Index). Life expectancy and years of schooling roughly reflect the same reasonable difference between Chinese men and women. However, the discrepancy in the estimated gross national income per capita is of no less than 5,125$ (10,705$ for women vs 15,830$ for men). 
This observation hints at the fact that gender equality might have improved in certain areas, while stagnating or perhaps even declining in others, as a result of Post-Mao economic and social reforms.

* * *

"But...there are more female engineers in China than Taiwan!" or "China has a huge number of women in STEM!"

Does it, though?

While I won't defend the male-dominated nature of STEM fields in Taiwan (or most of the world), I can't find any data to support that point, though I feel like I've seen some before. If anyone knows of any such data, please pass it along. In any case, pretty much every source points out that women's participation in STEM in China is actually lower than it should be, and sexism is rampant. China is not listed as a country where women have achieved parity in STEM by the World Economic Forum (and if you think "well they probably just hate China and don't understand it's 5000 years of culture, in a recent crap video they put out they listed Taiwan as "Taiwan, China", so...).

So I'm honestly just not sure this is true, or if it is I can't find any proof.

* * *

As for women and reproductive health, come on. The sources above already detail how historically, the CCP has used women - their bodies, their labor, their roles in society and the family - in whatever way suited them and "the country" (but really just them). That's just as true today. When the needs of the party happened to bear a passing resemblance to feminist objectives of greater gender equality, they latched onto that as a justification for their authoritarian nation-building that Westerners might be sympathetic to. In other words:

China has some of the least restrictive abortion laws in the world, but that has nothing to do with state support for bodily autonomy—it’s because abortion coincided with the government’s desires. Female bodies have always been treated as state property that yielded what the country needed....

Mao Zedong’s famous quote, “Women hold up half the sky,” is often touted by those who cite China’s high female employment rate (reaching its peak in the late 1970s at 90 percent employment for working-age urban women) or number of self-made female billionaires as evidence of significant progress toward gender equality....
But beneath this apparent commitment to empowering women, much of the feminist messaging has always been propaganda more concerned with boosting the labor force than actually promoting women.

This was true in the past and it's still true now. Women's reproductive rights in China follow a similar trajectory.
Meanwhile, the popular narrative has gone from “delayed motherhood is beneficial for women’s health” [the official message in state media when they wanted to convince people of the so-called sensibility of the One Child Policy to meet national goals of controlling the population] to “pregnancy during university improves employment chances in the future.” “Painless abortion” ads were seamlessly replaced by “painless childbirth” ads. Huang Xihua, a National People’s Congress representative who is outspoken on women’s topics, has condemned the high number of abortions that she blames for damaging women’s health, and she has also recommended that the marriage age for women be lowered to 18. All of these narratives are wrapped around the will of the party itself, which is that “giving birth is not only a family matter but also a national issue." 
The new natalism has the old skeleton of state control, molded with fresh flesh. 

When the CCP wants women to have fewer babies, they aim their propaganda cannons that way. When they want them to have more babies (or decrease the labor force while increasing the population), they get pointed another way. It never had anything to do with women's reproductive freedom. How could it have, from a government so blithely unconcerned with the notion of 'freedom' in general? 

The “one child” propaganda of yesteryear is being condemned for “morbid unluckiness” and supplanted by a celebration of traditional family values and natural feminine roles of daughter, wife, and mother. Banners, newspapers, TV shows, industry experts—every available medium is being turned into part of a propaganda machine touting the benefits of giving birth for the nation.

(The rest of that article is fascinating, by the way, and you should read it.)

Don't ever forget - China may have easy access to abortion (for now - do finish reading that article), but that has also led to forced abortions. As you would expect, those who suffer the most from being coerced into abortions are not wealthy, married or Han. They're the poor, unwed, rural or ethnic minorities. The CCP doesn't just want to decide whether people should be having more children or fewer - they want to control who has what they would consider 'high-quality' (affluent, in wedlock, Han) children.

Just try and tell me that this is 'reproductive freedom' in any sense. It's just another way to control female bodies for state benefit.

* * *

I'm not trying to pretend that Taiwan is some sort of utopia for women - it's not. So much needs to be done, from wage equality to fixing reproductive health care (to make it affordable and accessible to all women) to fixing the divorce and adultery laws, and enforcing the gender equality laws that are already in effect. We need to make sure that women actually get access to everything the law affords them. We need to change societal attitudes to be more modern, and this is entirely possible within a Taiwanese context.

But, come on. Let's not pretend that because Mao said a thing about women one time that sounded progressive, that China is doing better than Taiwan. Wage inequality is less severe here. Women are more likely to be literate (by a small margin). Nobody is forcing women to have abortions (though forcing women to bear children they don't want because they can't access abortions is another story). Although parents still meddle in their children's affairs - "the Lins are coming for dinner and their handsome son who is studying to be a doctor will join them! Won't it be nice to meet him? Do wear something nice!" - there aren't news stories about marriage markets full of grandparents that their grandchildren are horrified to hear about.

So please, stop pretending China's beating Taiwan in this regard. It simply is not. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Despite some unfortunate headlines, media coverage of Taiwan recognizing same-sex marriage is exactly what we needed

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Pro-equality activists have been talking about the tangential benefits of same-sex marriage (or better yet, marriage equality) in Taiwan for years, most notably that it would be a massive boost to Taiwan's international visibility. Just imagine the international media coverage, all focused on Taiwan, especially if we're the first in Asia, we've been saying since...forever.

Last Friday it happened. We laughed, we (happy) cried, it was the feel-good legislation of the year.  And just like we said, the rainbow explosion wasn't limited to Taiwan. Every major media outlet around the world - not just the ones in Western nations - carried the news.

Let's put that into perspective. After 2014, when I mentioned "the Sunflowers" to my friends in the US, I was met with blank stares. I may as well have been talking about actual sunflowers that you can grow in a garden. This time, I don't think I have a friend or relative in the world who hasn't heard the news. Taiwan did something huge, and it mattered to the news cycle that it was the first country in Asia to strike a blow for equality.

Wait, what was that I just said? First country?

Reading most English-language media, unfortunately, that word has been avoided with the most, um, ductile of language choices (please enjoy some links to examples). First place in Asia. The island's parliament. Taiwan's parliament...in historic first for Asia. First in Asia.

 First what in Asia? It seems nobody is willing to clarify. Or if they are, it's a 'state' (how is that different from a country?) or a 'self-ruled island'.

Of course, a few incompetent dipclowns (like the World Economic Forum) kind of soured it by calling this country "Taiwan, China", The Guardian called Taiwan a country on Instagram then issued a correction that it was a 'state', and now seems to have taken the post down (I can't find it to link it), and of course the Chinese media gonna Chinese media and whatever.

I propose, however, that the good reporting on this issue (and reporting that is good for Taiwan) has far outstripped the few geographically-challenged dumbos.

First, plenty of media did call Taiwan a country. USA Today called Taiwan a "country" via the Associated Press. The Chicago Tribune used it in their headline too, as did QuartzThe New York Times didn't use that word in their title, but they managed to find a quote to help them slip it in, and CNN did too. Bloomberg managed to stick it into three separate quotes the day before the vote (good job!), and a Bloomberg-affiliated video on Youtube uses the word "country" and so did DW. ANI (from South Asia) called Taiwan a "nation", Bustle called it a "country". Here is The Economist using it in their first paragraph and The Washington Post using "nation" towards the top of the article. There are surely more - there are only so many articles on the same topic that I can read.

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That's a lot of major media calling Taiwan a 'country' or a 'nation' and a lot of readers who will now understand that Taiwan is indeed a country. Nothing at all to sniff at.

Look beyond the English-language media, and it gets even better. On Twitter, Pierre Baubry noted that most French media called Taiwan a country:





...and that lines up with my admittedly shallow research (the sub-headline in Le Monde called Taiwan a 'country'). It's the same in Spanish. No really. There seem to be very few outliers, and even this one references the word "country" within the first paragraph.

But you know what? That's not even the best part.

The best part is that almost every single one of these stories, whether they called Taiwan a 'country', 'nation', 'place', 'state', 'island' or nothing at all ('first in Asia!'), focused on Taiwan itself. 

Not its relationship to China. Not what China thinks about Taiwan. Not China's reaction. Taiwan. The deliberations of Taiwan's legislature. What Taiwanese voters and demonstrators think. What President Tsai did. Taiwan's domestic political situation. China was a non-entity, as it should be, seeing as it's a totally different country. I mean, our buddy Ralph "I hate Taiwan but still write about it" Jennings framed his piece in relation to China but...well. Who cares - at least this time - if one guy buried the lede?

What I mean is, for once, the international media mostly reported on Taiwan the way they should have been all along.

When China was mentioned, it was either in passing without any of that 1949 claptrap, or it was to compare Taiwan favorably to China. Yay!

From the Washington Post:


In neighboring China — which asserts sovereignty over Taiwan — popular LGBT microblogs were censored online in the wake of Taiwan’s 2017 high-court ruling. The social media platform Weibo was criticized last month for restricting LGBT hashtags. 
Taiwan has shown that “traditional culture is not against LGBT culture,” said Jennifer Lu, coordinator of the rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan. “That’s the message we want to send to the world.”

Another great thing? All of the amazing soundbites from Taiwan being reported around the world, which focus specifically on the progressive conversation happening here. From the Washington Post:

Tsai, the president, voiced her support of the legislation in a Twitter post, saying that Friday marked “a chance to make history and show the world that progressive values can take root in an Asian society.”

And another one from WaPo correctly pointing out that this has long been an issue in Taiwan, correctly delineating Taiwanese activist history as continuous and robust:


Chi Chia-wei, a gay rights activist for more than 30 years, said he was “very, very happy” to see Taiwan legalize same-sex marriage, calling the process “a strong demonstration of our democratic spirit.” 

From the New York Times:

“Taiwan has become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage,” it said, “successfully striding toward a new page of history!” 
Human rights activists said they hoped Taiwan’s vote could influence other places in Asia to approve same-sex marriage.

From The Guardian:


“What we have achieved is not easy,” said Victoria Hsu, the founder and executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. “The law will not be 100% perfect, but this is a good start and this is a major step to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now the law says everyone should be treated equally no matter who you are, who you love.”

In another Washington Post piece, properly situating Taiwan as a progressive leader in Asia:


The vote in Taiwan helps “signal it’s not an East-West thing or global North global South thing,” Knight said. Officials in Brunei will have a hard time defending such harsh anti-homosexuality legislation, he said, “when the map of the Asian region is moving clearly in the opposite direction."

From The Economist:


In Asia, Taiwan has long stood out as a bastion of gay rights. The annual gay pride parade in Taipei, the capital, draws tens of thousands, many from overseas.

You guys, this is the kind of reporting that gets the world to wake up and notice Taiwan. This is how we show everyone not only that human rights are not an east-west issue (or a Global South/Global North one, though I would not say Taiwan is in the Global South developmentally), but that Taiwan is a bastion and a leader in Asia. This is how we show them how vibrant Taiwan's democracy really is, and that in fact a lot of interesting things take place here that they probably had no idea about, because the media never bothered to report on it.



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For that, I'm willing to overlook a few weaklings who wouldn't dare to just write "country" (and a few purposeful jerks like the World Economic Forum).

Overall, this is a win for Taiwan. Taiwan the country, Taiwan the regional leader, Taiwan the bastion of progressivism (at least by Asian standards).

Now, how do we get all those journalists to keep it up?


Saturday, May 18, 2019

What it meant to be an ally when Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage

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I wrote a longer reflection yesterday in which I wandered through many thoughts and emotions on yesterday's historic legislation. For this post, I want to highlight one thing that I think is important when you support an issue or social movement, but aren't a part of the group that that movement affects most deeply. That is, I want to talk about what it meant to be an ally standing in the crowd yesterday (yes, there is a little repetition between the two posts). Let's start here:

The level of civic engagement continues to impress me so much, and proves that Taiwan cannot be grouped so easily as a stereotypical 'Confucian', 'collectivist' society with wholly conservative values. It may be true that many young Taiwanese won't engage with their more conservative elders on these issues, but it's not true that they won't find other ways to oppose the old order of unfairness and inequality and a million -isms and phobia that those elders represent.


One of the arguments of the anti-gay camp is that ideas like marriage equality are 'Western' or 'foreign' and go against Taiwan's 'traditional culture' (they say 'Chinese' but I won't.) You know, all that Confucianism and collectivism and filial piety and what not. It's not that those aren't real facets of the culture, it's just that the whole culture cannot be reduced to them, nor can the actions or beliefs of any individual be explained wholly through them. People are not slaves to whatever aspect of their culture someone has decided explains their motives, and culture isn't static anyhow. 20 years ago you could have said the same thing about American culture. 

Of course equal rights have been a part of Taiwanese culture for some time now, and there is no incompatibility with Taiwanese culture (any incompatibility which seems to exist has been invented for political purposes).

So it really mattered that the people in the front rows and on stage, the crowds on camera were overwhelmingly Taiwanese. If 'marriage equality' is not compatible with 'Taiwanese culture', what were all those people who are Taiwanese and exist within a Taiwanese cultural milieu doing there?

Or as President of Taiwan and my current crush Tsai Ing-wen put it:




This movement was started by Taiwanese, carried by Taiwanese and the success they brought about yesterday was done by Taiwanese. There was no 'Western infiltration' about it. (In fact, the anti-gay side is the one that had to look to the West to figure out how to spread its hate, bringing in foreigners like Katy Faust to speak against equality and justice.)

It's important to keep repeating this, because that same opposition keeps accusing the pro-equality movement of doing the same, when it emphatically has not. The side that stands for equality has allies who stand with them. The side that stands against equality has foreign actors trying to help manipulate a certain outcome in Taiwan. And they are the ones who invented that 'goes against traditional Taiwanese culture' nonsense.

Marriage has meant many things in Taiwan over the centuries, including plural marriage, family-alliance marriage (that is, not love marriage) and marriage to ghosts. In China, there is a clear cultural tradition of homosexuality (at least among the upper classes).

It's actually a reductive neo-essentialist perspective - which is inherently Western - which turns so-called 'traditional values' into culturally static and immutable obstacles, a view one tends to take of cultural facets viewed from afar without full understanding. That almost every young person in Taiwan is pro-equality and yet still just as Taiwanese as their grandparents, however, shows that this outsider essentialist view of Taiwan is wrong. 


As an American who was in Taiwan for most of the culmination of the marriage equality movement in the US and so unable to participate (again as an ally - I'm straight and cis), it felt important to be a part of the support to make it happen in Taiwan, because it's my home. I have a place here too. What happens in Taiwan affects me.

And that place was being part of the crowd. Not onstage like a reverse Katy Faust, not a key part of the movement or even vital to it, but a participant who adds her physical presence to the movement. Foreigners were there lending their support too, but it's Taiwanese who led this, Taiwanese who made up the majority of that crowd, and Taiwanese who won. We just stood by them, and that was a meaningful place to be.


As an ally, I've reconsidered my own feelings on the Executive Yuan bill which passed yesterday - after being initially upset and disappointed, it became clear that Taiwanese LGBT groups and the local LGBT community were supporting it, and to be a good ally, I should follow their lead.

Let's stop telling Taiwan what its culture is, while we're at it. Let's quit it with the "but Taiwan is like this" or "Taiwan can't do that, because culture and reasons" or "but Taiwan is so Confucian and collectivist". Pish. Instead, let's be allies and let them tell us. 



It's a humbling, meaningful and impactful place to be. I recommend trying it. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

The sky is brightening: personal reflections on Taiwan recognizing same-sex marriage rights

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During the Sunflower Movement, Taiwanese rock band Fire Extinguisher sang that "the sky is brightening" (“天色漸漸光”)in their hit song "Island Sunrise".

Five years later, as several thousand people or more stood outside the legislature for hours in the pouring rain, clad in damp rainbow gear under beleaguered umbrellas to watch legislative proceedings on same-sex marriage, the sky brightened again, both literally and figuratively.

First, a rundown of how the legislative proceedings went (for a summary of goings-on at the rally, check out New Bloom, and here's my summary of what's happened over the past few weeks). The morning was a bit chaotic, with proceedings kicking off late, and every legislator being given three minutes to voice their opinion, time which many (though not all) legislators took. Freddy Lim and You Mei-nu spoke particularly articulately in favor of equality, while anti-equality legislators, as usual, voiced concerns that defied logic. These "concerns" included points such as "if we pass this, then referendums have no meaning!" (when the reason why this bill creates a separate law rather than changing the civil code is due to the referendum results) and questioning whether the legislature actually had to listen to the court (...uh, yes).


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Then the Executive Yuan bill went through a line-by-line reading and passed every article in turn, with some 'controversial' amendments. The crowd cheered and proclaimed victory as Article 4, which specifically uses the term 'marriage' in relation to same-sex unions, passed with a narrow majority of 66 votes. Reviews continued into the afternoon as legislators skipped lunch. Notably, KMT legislators Jason Hsu and Chiang Wan-an voted for it, with DPP anti-gay legislator Lin Tai-hua voting against.

At that point, I was curled up under my rainbow umbrella with my butt perched on a rain-drenched half-wall outside an entrance to NTU Hospital. I was shunted with much of the crowd to Jinan Road, as the main rally on Qingdao Road was at capacity. Around me, scores of young Taiwanese were following live feeds on their phones of the legislative proceedings nearby (a jumbo screen on Qingdao Road had a live feed for people on that side).



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I ran into a friend and we grabbed coffee together as the review dragged. The rain continued to pummel the attendees still outside the legislature. But you know what? Most of them stayed. Hours it dragged on, and let's be honest, legislative proceedings are kind of boring. Connectivity was awful. Everyone was soaked despite having umbrellas and rain ponchos. There was nowhere to sit. But they stayed - thousands, maybe tens of thousands - to watch legislation drag on together on a screen most of them couldn't actually see.

By the time I made it back to the legislature, the rain let up. The sky brightened.



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A few more controversial things happened - a last-minute motion by the NPP to deal with the international marriage issue (so that foreign nationals from countries that don't recognize marriage equality would be able to marry their same-sex Taiwanese partners) failed, with the entire DPP voting against it...for no good reason. The clause that would allow people to adopt the biological children of their same-sex spouse, but not to jointly adopt an unrelated child, remained in place (with no changes to the lack of access to fertility treatments for same-sex couples, and no surrogacy services in Taiwan).


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But the sky brightened nonetheless. The proceedings dragged on. The people stayed as the rain dissipated and the sun came out, turning puddles of cool rainwater into humid vapor. I ran into another friend and we stood on the now somewhat-less crowded Qingdao Road, steaming in our clothes as the final articles passed review, and hopeful young activists clad in rainbows counted down each one.


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Then it was time for the final countdown - the vote on the overall bill. A flawed bill that does not grant true marriage equality, but a form of same-sex marriage (using the word "marriage") nonetheless. When it passed, the crowd erupted. Some screamed, some cried. The sun shone bright as Taiwan became the first country in Asia to give same-sex couples access to their right to marry: a massive shift in the mood and the weather from morning to afternoon.

The wait from the beginning of the session until the final vote was about 6 hours - approximately 10am to 4pm. But those activists had been standing in the metaphorical rain for far longer than that. The battle for same-sex marriage in Taiwan has been shorter than in many other countries: it wasn't  an issue being discussed widely just 5 years ago, when the sky brightened for the Sunflowers (though dedicated activists had been working on it in smaller numbers for some time prior to that). The fight, however, was as vicious and all-consuming as this morning's rain, and it's not over yet.



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All I can say is that I am just so impressed with Taiwan today. If you thought the dedication of the Sunflowers was a thing of the past, I submit humbly that it continues in a different form, through a different kind of adversity.

I don't imagine there are many countries that would end a marriage equality rally with a performance by a black metal band, as Taiwan did. I don't think there are many where 10,000 or more people would stand resolutely and unflinchingly in the soaking rain just to be physically present for an interminable legislative session. The level of civic engagement continues to impress me so much, and proves that Taiwan cannot be grouped so easily as a stereotypical 'Confucian', 'collectivist' society with wholly conservative values. It may be true that many young Taiwanese won't engage with their more conservative elders on these issues, but it's not true that they won't find other ways to oppose the old order of unfairness and inequality and a million -isms and phobia that those elders represent.

One of the arguments of the anti-gay camp is that ideas like marriage equality are 'Western' or 'foreign' and go against Taiwan's 'traditional culture' (they say 'Chinese' but I won't.) 

But of course equal rights have been a part of Taiwanese culture for some time now, and there is no incompatibility with Taiwanese culture (any incompatibility which seems to exist has been invented for political purposes). 

So it really mattered that the people in the front rows and on stage, the crowds on camera were overwhelmingly Taiwanese. This movement was started by Taiwanese, carried by Taiwanese and the success they brought about yesterday was done by Taiwanese. There was no 'Western infiltration' about it. (In fact, the anti-gay side is the one that had to look to the West to figure out how to spread its hate, bringing in foreigners like Katy Faust to speak against equality and justice.) It's important to keep repeating this, because that same opposition keeps accusing the pro-equality movement of doing the same, when it emphatically has not. 


As an American who was in Taiwan for most of the culmination of the marriage equality movement in the US and so unable to participate, it felt important to be a part of the support to make it happen in Taiwan, because it's my home. I have a place here too. And that place was being part of the crowd. Not onstage like a reverse Katy Faust, not a key part of the movement or even vital to it, but a participant who adds her physical presence to the crowd.



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And it may be true that the DPP will suffer for this in 2020, but somehow I doubt it. They may lose, but I don't think it will be because of this. That they managed to get it through despite absolutely vicious opposition might just win back the young voters who were talking about abandoning them. Besides, people talk about the 2018 KMT sweep as though it had anything to do with conservative 'family values', when it didn't. It was about local governance - and we know that because the NPP drastically expanded its electoral reach despite being wholly pro-equality. They would have suffered the way the DPP did if marriage equality were truly the wedge issue that opponents and pessimists say it is. Most likely scenario? By 2020 same-sex marriage will be normalized, and no longer an issue for the DPP. After all, something had to be done after the 2017 ruling. Best-case scenario? This will actually work in their favor as the progressives who were disenchanted with them come running back.

Besides, in every country where same-sex marriage or marriage equality has been passed, it has simply ceased to be an issue (unlike, say, abortion, which remains contentious in the US because some people hate women.) The party that passed it has generally not suffered electoral losses as a result, as people learn fairly quickly that their gay fellow citizens are indeed normal human beings who deserve equal rights and what was all the fuss about anyway? I can't imagine Taiwan wouldn't go the same way.




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And if you think this has nothing to do with the spirit of the Sunflowers, this guy is here to tell you
that you are wrong. And he wasn't the only one. 

If they do lose in 2020 over this, then they will have stood for what was right in the face of a tyrannical, hateful majority. True liberal progressives won't forget that, and it will come back to them someday. It would be sad to see if that's the case, but the solution could never have been for them simply not to stand for what was right.

As a Facebook friend posted regarding the anti-equality referendum result last year (kept anonymous as the post is not public:

"And yet, the government went ahead with the law. Why? Well, this is what distinguishes democracy from populism. Democracy is not merely about majority voting: it is also about adhering to basic principles protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority."

But they did, and the future leaders of Taiwan did as well. We stood in the rain for hours...for years.

The fight for full equality is not over, but the sky is brighter now, and the future is too. 



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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Come support marriage equality this Friday!

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This Friday morning - that's May 17 - the Legislature will vote on the three 'same sex marriage' (not marriage equality) bills currently under consideration. People I know are saying that the Executive Yuan's bill - that is, the least bad of the three - will come up for a vote first, as it was introduced first. If it passes, the other two get thrown out. There was some attempt to 'reconcile' the three bills into one thing the Legislature could vote on, but that, uh, didn't happen, because one side keeps stating facts and making good arguments that take the needs of LGBT citizens into account, and the other side can't even get their facts straight and don't care about LGBT citizens' rights.

Although it's not great, it would be best for everyone if the Executive Yuan bill passes for a few reasons. First, it'd mean that bills which protect the rights of LGBT citizens least would not be considered, which is especially important in the case of the so-called 'compromise' bill, which would (horrifyingly) allow relatives of either member of the couple to sue to stop the marriage from being legally recognized. (Edit: this provision has been stricken from the bill.)

It would also mean that there would be a legal framework for how to implement same-sex marriage now, with a fairly clear (though legally tiring) path to actual marriage equality. If we just let the interpretation of the Civil Code take effect on May 24th, nobody really knows what will happen and very little about the actual rights of married same-sex couples will be clear. Finally, this is the bill that LGBT groups support. If we want to be good allies, we should let them lead, and support it too.


And the DPP will need all the vocal support it can get, seeing as it has handled this issue disastrously from the start.

This is the final scheduled vote before the Civil Code interpretation changes automatically, as per the ruling of the Council of Grand Justices, on May 24th. Basically...this is it.

So, there's a rally planned that starts at 8:30am outside the Legislative Yuan. Pro-equality advocates are hoping for a good turnout, even on a Friday morning. I'll be there, wandering around, taking photos, generally adding my physical presence to the crowd.

If you care about equal rights and human rights, I ask that you come too. Take time off if you have to. Tell your friends. Not just the foreigners (though it's easier for a lot of us to be free on a random morning), but your Taiwanese friends. Apply for half-day leave now.

Plus, you can be sure the anti-gay folks will be there too. We need to outnumber them just to show the legislature that equality is the only real future for Taiwan.

If the best of the three bills passes, we still won't have marriage equality, but we will have something on the road to it, and if we show up in numbers that will make an important statement going forward.

See you there.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Evolving thoughts on the same-sex marriage bill

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Metal star and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim hands out rainbow flags with the New Power Party


Here's a quick recap of what's going on with the same-sex marriage bill (I'm sorry to say I can't call it marriage equality), which moved to the Legislative Yuan recently. 

From Facebook friend Michael Garber quoting Yahoo! News Taiwan (link in Chinese):


This morning, the draft marriage equality law, “The Enforcement Act of Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748” received enough votes in its first reading to skip committee and proceed straight to second reading.

Next, comes a month of inter-party deliberations, and then a final vote (I don't think the law will require a third reading).


All parties let their members vote as they please, and in spite of 5 DPP legislators voting against it, the bill had enough support to proceed.



Edited: I mentioned that NPP legislator Hung Tzu-yung didn't vote and wondered why. It turns out she's in the hospital about to give birth but does support the bill. Good reason, and good tidings to her!


There's also an anti-marriage equality bill that has very little support (it doesn't have the support of the KMT caucus whip). From Taiwan News:


Despite pleas from marriage equality opposition group Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance, Kuomintang legislators will not introduce a draft bill that would see same-sex unions defined as non-marital [ed: meaning that words such as 'marriage' would be reserved for opposite-sex couples, though same-sex couples would be able to form unions] during Tuesday’s legislative session.

The group called on the KMT caucus at the Legislative Yuan Monday to help put the proposal into action. Legislator John Wu (吳志揚) told CNA the party would not yet be introducing the bill as it has not been viewed by enough of the caucus, and opinions on same-sex marriage differ among members.


CNA reports the bill is still likely to make it to parliament on March 12, but not necessarily under the name of the party caucus.



What this means is that the Executive Yuan bill - the "Enforcement of 748" one - is moving more quickly than the legislation aimed at blocking it/shooting it down, and that the former seems to be better supported overall. The general sentiment, outside of the People First Party, is that they want this through and in effect as soon as possible (probably just as much to minimize its impact on the 2020 elections as to actually ensure that same-sex couples can marry as soon as possible, and surely to get it through before the May deadline when the civil code interpretation will change if nothing else is done.)

I've had a lot of thoughts spinning around in my head regarding the "Enforcement of Interpretation 748" bill on same-sex marriage, and still can't say my I support it with a full heart.

But I do want it to pass, and that's close enough. I think you should too.

The clearest reason is that the LGBT community is backing it, and if we straights want to be good allies, it would be smart to follow their lead. To prove my point, here's a post from a popular pro-
equality group, asking people to contact their legislator to ask them to support the bill:





Plus, I have it on very good authority (not revealing my source, but just trust me) that the Executive Yuan worked with LGBT groups to make sure they crafted something that the LGBT community could ultimately accept, while also trying to craft legislation with an apolitical title that wouldn't overly inflame or demonize conservative groups (it doesn't do the latter at all, though they took offense regardless).

So if the LGBT community can accept this, so can I. If they want it passed into law, so do I.

Second, conservative groups are so mad that the government did an end-run around their anti-gay rhetoric. And I love that. Their anger is a good measure of whether a bill is suitably progressive for the moment - if they like it, it's probably terrible. If it makes them mad, there must be something good about it.

Third, it provides a clear path forward, avoiding the mess that could ensue if we let the May 24th deadline pass with no law. It also renders impossible the chance that, if the DPP loses in 2020, that the KMT will appoint more conservative judges who may reverse the Grand Justices' decision. We need more than a court interpretation in place.

And finally, the more I think about the ways that the draft bill is unequal, the clearer it is that the Executive Yuan is basically telling LGBT groups, "we're putting this in here as an olive branch to anti-equality groups, because they sure do love to scream 'won't somebody think of the CHILDREN?!', but we know perfectly well that it doesn't line up with the spirit of interpretation 748, which specifically references equality. That means you can challenge it legally and you have a good chance of winning, as same-sex marriage becomes normalized in society in the meantime. Keep fighting!"

Basically, they're handing them a fighting chance while making it look like a concession, and that's just brilliant. Something tells me LGBT groups in the know are aware of this (no source; just my intuition).

So perhaps it's not time to celebrate just yet, because the fight will continue.

But we can support the path that LGBT groups have decided to accept, and hope that this law passes. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Government Proposes Marriage Inequality

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While everyone is celebrating the draft same-sex partnership law that has been announced and will move to the legislature for debate, here I am - as always - sucking vinegar and taking names.

That's not to say there's nothing good about the draft law - just that it isn't marriage equality and we can't rightfully call it that. And I wouldn't say I oppose the law, but you won't find me shouting my support from the rooftops either. I hope it passes, but if you want my enthusiasm, well, sorry to disappoint. 

Therefore, while we can say that Taiwan will be the first country to offer some kind of same-sex "marriage", and they even call it  "marriage" in the draft, it's not equal, period.

There are some positives: next-of-kin rights (medical visitation, making medical decisions, inheritances) seem to be included, so previous real-life situations in which someone was in the hospital and their same-sex partner could not visit or make decisions for them, or when someone died and their estate went to their blood family and not the person who was their spouse in all but legal name will be averted. That's a very important big win. We can also assume that this will include the ability to buy insurance together, be on the same medical insurance plans etc. - not as big a deal in Taiwan given the NHI system, but still important.

And, of course, the proposal specifically uses the word "marriage", which does matter. Words mean things; they imply a definition of truth. The Executive Yuan didn't have to use that word - they could have called it something more like "union" or "partnership" but didn't, which sends a strong message. Good.

It is not, however, equal marriage.

At the risk of angering some people (though I'm not at all sorry), some other aspects of this draft law are some big fat Jim Crow bullshit.

Same-sex couples will not gain the right of co-adoption; one spouse may adopt only the biological offspring of the other. That means no adopting orphaned children, and it also creates some very difficult barriers.

Fertility treatments and surrogacy are not easily obtainable by single people in Taiwan; often the treatments are only available to married couples at any price (it's not an issue of these treatments not being covered by NHI; unmarried people are simply banned from accessing them). From the Storm Media piece, the "special law" says that giving these treatments to same sex couples will be "at the competent authorities' discretion", whatever that means. So it may be quite difficult for same-sex couples to even have biological children, if they are denied access by these "competent authorities".

The issue of international marriage is not mentioned in the law, and appears for now to therefore not be covered. Storm Media's link above implies that it will  that it will only be possible to marry a same-sex foreigner if that foreigner's country of citizenship also recognizes same-sex marriage. That's not quite the case, necessarily: it would be quite possible to overrule the prohibition on marrying in this case, citing it as a disruptor of 'public order' in Taiwan. My lawyer friend says he hopes that this is how such cases are interpreted going forward. 

The "religious freedom" clause, which specifically says this marriage bill will not interfere with anyone's right to practice their religion as they wish, is unclear. I'm not opposed to it on its face; if someone wants to believe in some gay-hating sky friend, I think that's kind of dumb and bigoted but I don't think they must be legally mandated to change their (dumb and bigoted) religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is a basic right after all. But, it's unclear whether that will extend to allowing employers to discriminate against LGBT employees, or businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers, on the basis of religion. This needs to be clarified.

There is also a minor difference in the legal age of marriage, but it's more likely that the actual marriage law (rather than this unequal "special law") will be amended so that the age of consent to marry is the same across genders.

And, finally, this "special law" doesn't establish an official "in-law" relationship. I'm not quite sure what that means in practice, but it is a difference.

For all of these reasons, I simply cannot say that Taiwan is on the cusp of marriage equality. There will be some form of marriage with this law - which has not passed yet, by the way, it's just about to reach the legislature now and needs to be debated and voted on - but the fight isn't over.

The good news is that the unequal aspects of this law can be challenged in court, and I have to believe they were designed to be easily toppled. The Council of Grand Justices ruling in May 2017 specifically said that, as all citizens must have access to equal rights, that the right to marry must therefore be equal.

This does not confer equality, and therefore does not quite adhere to the constitutional interpretation ruling, and so is subject to legal challenge on those grounds. I am sure it will be challenged, and there's a strong foundation for making that happen relatively expediently while ensuring that the most egregious withholding of rights (next-of-kin issues) are handled.

It's a step, but I have to admit I grow tired of these half-steps. It happened with dual nationality too (allowing some special magic foreigners to qualify for dual nationality and relegating the rest of us to Garbage Foreigner status).

I know it's hard to convince more conservative factions of society that sweeping change is necessary, but real lives are impacted in the meantime, and it's tiring to be expected to compromise with Granny Bigot (age shouldn't be a factor but public opinion polls show that there is a strong age correlation) while waiting for access to rights (like marriage) and privileges (like dual nationality) that meaningfully change our lives. I get that there are political strategies to consider, but I personally am fine with letting Granny Bigot be upset.


I also don't feel all "rah rah hooray" when I know that this 'special law' is essentially an encouragement to keep fighting, not a summative victory.

The good news is that this is really angering conservative groups in Taiwan. Awesome! I hope all of their kids are gay. (That's not a punishment, it'll make Taiwan more awesome, but it'll also make them mad and make them think they're suffering...and that's great.)


So what can we do in the meantime?

To ensure that Taiwan moves toward actual marriage equality, we can donate to any number of pro-equality groups so that they have the funds to mount legal challenges, for starters. Here's a good place to start.

We can talk to relatives who disagree. Rallies are nice and stickers are great, and so are banners in hipster cafes, but the real change will happen when we start talking to the people in our lives about what equality means and why it matters for Taiwan (and everywhere). That if Taiwan stands for freedom and human rights, this is an essential part of it.

And while I won't tell others they can't celebrate, I'm holding off on my party. I will neither relax nor celebrate until we get actual marriage equality in Taiwan.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Whatever Happens Tomorrow

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I'm back, just in time! My last pre-dissertation paper is in and I've caught up on sleep, so hopefully it'll be less of a wasteland in here while I get back into writing (though I have a backlog of things I need to write for other people, so it may not be the frenzy that was October).

So, I awoke from my post-academic-writing stupor to realize, oh crap, the election is tomorrow! I can't vote so it shouldn't matter to me, but it does.

I don't like...any of the candidates, just about anywhere. So I'm not even bothering - the major races are a mess and that's that. Taipei especially has no good options. Sooo, whatever. Most of all, I'm worried about marriage equality. And pissed, because while I understand that the DPP wussed out in part because their more conservative supporters weren't having it on changing the civil code, if they'd acted swiftly and just pushed it through, we would not be in this position now, with a vote coming up on people's basic human rights.

This is related to my worry about the candidates, though: the KMT candidates are just...so anti-equality, and anti-gay groups are apparently showing up at their rallies according to friends of mine who have attended (I've been too busy to attend, because I'm a cut-rate blogger.) I have to wonder if the KMT cut a back-room deal with the pink-shirted church jerks: bus your sheep parishioners to our rallies and get them to vote for us, and we'll make sure there's no change to the civil law. We don't actually care, but we want your votes so we'll throw them under the bus for you if you show up for us. 

It doesn't seem likely that the two pro-equality referendums will pass, simply because although at least 25% of the voting population supports them, a fair number are young and can't return 'home' to vote either because they can't afford it or they have to work. Of the big, soft center of Taiwanese society of decent folks who aren't opposed to equality, but aren't passionately for it, I worry that many just won't vote, or will vote for the anti-equality referendums because they've been tricked by those horrible church people.

But, if we do win, the church people aren't going away. We won't have really beat them until we change the civil code and normalize equality to the point that they won't be able to get support for changing it back.

If we lose, there are a few things to take comfort in.

First, that the old out-vote the young, because the young are busy and broke. Even if the anti-equality referendums pass and the pro-equality ones don't, that won't be a complete reflection of Taiwanese society.

Second, they may be trying to put a barrier in our way - ironically making life more difficult for the next generation while braying about how they are trying to "protect" the youth - but the youth of Taiwan overwhelmingly support marriage equality, and while people may grow more conservative as they age, that's never struck me as a view that tends to change once someone realizes equality is right. Those old church people will die - some of them soon, because they're old - and their legacy will not live on. It's too late for that. This particular arc of justice may be long, but its trajectory is pretty set.

Third, even if we do lose, there will be some form of civil partnership by May next year. That doesn't satisfy me - inequality is still inequality and it's not good enough - but it's a step, and then we keep fighting.

What worries me on this end is that politically, Taiwan stands to benefit a great deal from equality: think of the headlines once it actually goes through! It's been great PR for this country already, and started to wake the world up to the ways in which Taiwan is a bastion of (comparative - in certain ways only) liberalism in Asia. The longer we delay that, the worse it will be for Taiwan. And if we delay too long and are not, in fact, the first country in Asia to pass actual marriage equality, we'll lose a huge opportunity to make massive global headlines. All those pro-independence greens who say they want the world to notice Taiwan as Taiwan, but who are conservative and maybe even Christian (the DPP has strong ties to the Presbyterian church) are shooting themselves in the foot, and they don't even seem to realize it. We not only need to do this soon for the sake of LGBT people, we need to be the first in Asia for Taiwan's political sake.

And finally, it's not particularly clear to me that the results of any of these referendums are binding (I've heard people say they are, and that they aren't, and I've been too mired in school work to research it on my own.)

So, whatever happens tomorrow, the march toward equality in Taiwan continues, and there will be progress. There has already been progress: from a few years ago when the anti-equality side was trying to stop any sort of civil partnership for LGBT people and attempting to paint them as moral degenerates, to now when even the anti-gay camp being forced to support some sort of civil partnership law, the conversation has changed. If we lose, we can't accept the bottom line of the church people, but we have shown that the conversation can keep changing.

100,000 or so people showed up to Ketagalan Boulevard this past Sunday for a pop-and-metal-star filled afternoon of music and cheering, when estimates had been for a far smaller crowd. It was bigger than the rally for any of the Taipei mayoral candidates, and bigger than anything the anti-equality crowd has been able to put together. Interestingly - from my perspective anyway - the way marriage equality has been approached in Taiwan feels unique. I can't imagine, before it became a nationwide law in the US, a pro-equality rally featuring a black metal band as one of its most famous acts. I guess in the US we just don't Metal For Our Rights (to quote a friend). I sat through the whole thing writing my paper while splayed out on the pavement, protesting and doing my homework at the same time...and I have never felt more Taiwanese.

In any case, we draw crowds. We change conversations. We push forward. The generation that is on its way out is the last generation that will keep us from marriage equality in Taiwan. Even if they win this battle, they have emphatically lost the war.

That doesn't make me happy per se, but it's keeping me away from the bottle tonight.


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