Showing posts with label human_rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human_rights. Show all posts

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Being a democracy activist in Asia is an act of extreme courage

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Asia woke up this morning to the news that several Hong Kong activists were being arrested or attacked for their alleged roles in the ongoing protest movement there. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow Ting, Andy Chan, Jimmy Sham, Althea Suen and more (including some pro-democracy lawmakers) have been targeted in various ways - cornered and beaten, shoved into private cars and taken to police stations to face charges or arrested at the airport before a planned trip abroad. One activist was released from police custody and then attacked.

These are only the high-profile arrests. Hundreds more have been quietly arrested in previous weeks:



Notably, the Civil Human Rights Front march that Jimmy Sham was likely involved in organizing hasn't taken place yet. 

What that means is that these activists are being targeted - arrested or beaten - in some cases for things that China Hong Kong anticipates their doing, not things they have already allegedly done.


I cannot stress this enough. It's full-on Minority Report, as a friend put it: arresting someone for a "crime" that has not been committed (yet, allegedly, not that a peaceful march is a crime at all.)

That's not the sort of thing well-functioning societies do; it's the sort of thing fascist states do. It's White Terror. It's pre-massacre. If that alarms you, it should. 

The march has been officially canceled but I'll be very interested to see what actually happens tomorrow. 

These demonstrations are officially 'leaderless', and while organizers certainly exist, it sure looks to me like the Chinese Hong Kong government just decided to go after former protest leaders and other activists almost randomly, either assuming that they must be somehow involved or not caring and just looking to arrest some public pro-democracy figures on whatever charges they could drum up. 

In fact, there are serious doubts as to whether Joshua Wong had a leading role in the Wan Chai demonstration:



That this sudden crackdown on pro-democracy activists happened right before this weekend's planned march hints at China Hong Kong's true intentions: not to actually bring 'leaders' of these demonstrations 'to justice', but rather to scare demonstrators into ending the movement.

Add to this the detention in China of British Consulate employee Simon Cheng on unclear grounds (Cheng has since been released) and the disappearance of Taiwanese activist Morrison Lee after entering Shenzhen (in China) from Taiwan, and you've got yourself quite the 'crackdown' list indeed. What's more, with Cathay Pacific now stating that any employee who protests this weekend or joins the planned general strike next week may face termination, other companies are likely to follow suit. Even more than that, there are rumors of Hong Kong locking down its Internet access much in the way China does its own.

Perhaps most terrifying of all, Lizard Person Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that "all laws" were on the table as possible tools to end the protests. This includes the absolutely terrifying Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which is basically a state of Martial Law:


Such regulations grant a wide range of powers, including on arrests, detentions and deportations, the control of ports and all transport, the appropriation of property, and authorising the entry and search of premises and the censorship and suppression of publications and communications. 
The ordinance also allows the chief executive to decide on the penalties for the offences drawn under the emergency regulations, with a maximum of life imprisonment.

All of this was done by the Hong Kong government officially, but we know who's really running the show. To wit:


The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.... 
Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

Of course, it's unclear what China hopes to gain by escalating rather than choosing a path that would bring peace (do not think for a moment that they couldn't choose such a path; they just don't want to. Don't pretend that Beijing is not responsible for its own choices.)

Is it a trap to provoke protesters into actions that could be spun by Chinese state media as "violence" and used as justification for further crackdowns?





Or, perhaps China Hong Kong isn't sure at all what to do about a leaderless protest with very specific demands - including the one thing they are completely opposed to offering (that is, true democracy) - is desperate to stop it, has started panicking and has started randomly arresting figureheads thinking they're all the same kind of 'roaches' anyway. Or, perhaps,  China Hong Kong law enforcement really is stupid enough to believe that these arrests along with talk of 'emergency powers', random attacks and disappearances and more will 'scare' democracy activists away and end the protests. (It won't.)

I don't know, and I'll be watching social media carefully this weekend just like everyone else to find out what the effects will be.

Given all of this, all I can say is - it takes guts of steel to be a democracy activist in Asia these days. Not a dilettante at a keyboard like me, but the ones in gas masks on the streets, the ones likely to be arrested, attacked or disappeared. That's true regardless of where you come from in Asia, and is especially true in Hong Kong now.

It's dangerous to travel, as you never know which countries might detain you at China's request as Thailand did with Joshua Wong. A Taiwanese activist friend of mine has said that as a result, he worries about travel to other parts of Asia. The Philippines, an ostensibly democratic nation, is turning 'death squads' on political activists. Constant threat of attack, detainment or disappearance bring both pride and anguish to their families. Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists now disappear in China regularly - Lee Ming-che, Simon Cheng, Morrison Lee - those who are banned from China got the better deal than those allowed to enter only to be thrown in a cell.

And yet, the protests must go on. The activism must continue. Having guts of steel is necessary, because giving in is not an option. They are not wrong - China is - and it's therefore on China to do the right thing. (They won't.)

For a part of the world that is relatively politically stable (well, outside China) and well-developed, it's an absolute tragedy that this is what one risks when one stands up for the basic right of self-determination, even in the Asian countries that protect such rights.

That leads me to a darker thought. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, I remember Hillary Clinton making an off-the-cuff remark (spoken, and I can't find video) about how the international affairs landscape had changed since the '90s - she said something like "we all believed it was supposed to be the End of History", admitting through her maudlin tone that it had not and would not come to pass. 


I remember Clinton shrugging it off, like "oh well, guess we got that one wrong", as though that's all there was to it. A scholar wrote a thing, we believed that thing, we acted according to our belief in that thing but...haha funny story, turns out he wasn't quite right that free markets under neoliberal capitalism through globalization and wealth creation would bring about liberal democratic reforms in currently illiberal nations and that didn't actually happen lol  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ !

But sitting here in Asia watching people I follow on social media - and in a few cases have some mutual friends with - be arrested or attacked for things that either haven't been done yet or would not be crimes even if they've committed them, it makes me furious. Beliefs like that led the rest of the world to praise China's rapid (if uneven, unreliably measured and volatile) economic development while not saying much at all about continued political oppression there, their escalating nationalist and fascist rhetoric, including 'moral education', and increasingly aggressive expansionism.

And now that big, mean giant is trying to call the shots in Asia well beyond its own borders, and is actively threatening exactly the democracy activists those '90s wonks would have wanted - nay, expected - to succeed.

Basically, the West's oopsie! on believing that freer markets would lead to freer societies has instead led straight to all of the dangers - including threats to their lives - that these brave activists must now face. Believing in hackneyed political philosophy and acting on that, it turns out, has real consequences.

Most of the blame for the poor current state of freedom and human rights in Asia lies with China. Some lies with a few other nations, but none are as powerful as China. But some of it lies with us - the West. We could have figured out in 1989 - the year of both Fukuyama's essay on The End of History and the Tiananmen Square Massacre - that we couldn't just rely on China to liberalize, and that freedoms must be consistently fought for and sometimes paid for with blood. We could have done right by Hong Kong before 1997, actually giving Hong Kongers a say and a true democracy then, rather than relying on China to do the right thing when it was so very clear that it would not. We could have woken up to the need to stand by Taiwan far earlier (some still haven't woken up).

But we didn't. Oops. And Asia suffered for it. 


Another bit of ‘90s era claptrap that hobbles today’s activists in Asia is the notion of ‘Asian-style democracy’ - relentlessly prompted by people like Lee Kuan-yew. This preposterous notion that it’s OK for democracy in Asia to be a bit more authoritarian and much less free ‘because of culture’ - which is what its rationale boils down to - made it that much harder for the millions in Asia, who never consented to this quasi-authoritarian model of limited democracy, to fight for the same freedoms that Westerners expect and enjoy. And it made life more dangerous for activists working for those goals, and who understand that human rights are not ‘cultural’, but universal. That they exist in large numbers and persist in their goals shows that the ‘different cultures’ argument is ultimately specious. 



Asian strongmen - the ones who benefit from the normalizing of this belief - still use the ‘Asian-style democracy’ argument to justify their tactics, China uses the ‘East-West values’ argument, and some Westerners, especially lefties and liberals, lap it up. It allows them to feel good about themselves for understanding ‘cultural differences’ while offering them an excuse to sit back and do nothing without moral guilt. Meanwhile, people who share their vision in Asia fight, are injured, disappear and die, ignored. 

Alongside ‘the end of history’, the troublesome persistence of the ‘Asian values’ paradigm has actively hurt democracy activism here, and continues to harm them. 

Arguably the logic behind the Handover was rooted somewhat in these beliefs (they were popular notions when it was being negotiated in the ‘80s and ‘90s). And now, Hong Kongers are feeling the result. Bad beliefs aren’t just oopsies. They have consequences. 

And now, thanks in some small part to us,  must be very brave and willing to risk everything to fight for democracy in Asia, and we are going to need a lot of gas masks, a lot of umbrellas, and wave upon wave of courageous people.

It should bother you, then, that the people - many of them young, some even teenagers - who are fighting on the front lines of the battle for democracy against authoritarianism are not fighting just for themselves, but for you. This is the front line but if you think China's not coming to subvert your democratic norms too, you're blinkered. In some cases, they already are. It should bother you a lot that they're fighting for themselves and for you, when you helped create a world where it was necessary for them to stand up in the face of bullets, 'private cars', trumped-up arrest charges, water cannons and tear gas. It should bother you that they're risking their livelihoods and their lives to fix a problem you helped create.

And it should bother you that the rest of the world is not standing with them as much as they should. It takes courage to be a democracy activist in Asia, and even greater courage to continue to fight when the world does not necessarily have your back.

So, fellow Westerners, global middle and upper classes, and political influencers. The next time you pat yourself on the back for buying into something that sounds so very clever, think about how many Joshua Wongs are going to end up disappeared, in jail or dead if you are wrong. Think about how many people might have to be brave because you wanted to think yourself smart. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Hong Kong's proposed extradition law should terrify you

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I want to address this to my friends - especially real-life friends outside Asia, but really anybody who cares even nominally about my well-being. I'd like you to read this with the thought in your head that every possibility described below could very well happen to me - this isn't some abstract thing that might affect people you don't know in a place that's far away. It's a very real thing that might affect someone you do know. Please consider that, and read on.

A massive demonstration took place in Hong Kong today to protest a proposed extradition treaty that would allow people facing criminal charges to be sent to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan for trial. Nobody is quite sure how many are in attendance but everyone agrees that it is at least several hundred thousand (well, the police don't, but they have a reputation for purposely under-reporting).

That may sound fine - boring, even. You might do a quick search and learn that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with 20 other governments, so why not add these to the mix? Why would up to half a million people or more* take to the streets of Hong Kong Island to protest it, grinding much of the city to a halt?

Because, as this video from the Progressive Lawyers' Group in Hong Kong explains, there is simply no hope of a fair trial in China. The government decides whom it wants to convict, and throughout the sham trial their conviction is a foregone conclusion. Extradition treaties are based on the belief that the other country or territory will give the person a fair trial - and Hong Kongers would be right to have no such faith in China.

It's an even more troubling situation for Hong Kong, where the government is ostensibly partly elected, but in practice under the thumb of the CCP. They run their own Beijing-backed candidates; if too many pro-Hong Kong/anti-China candidates win seats in Hong Kong's legislative committee, they simply fabricate charges to get them kicked out of the government and in some cases put in jail.

If China decided that someone they wanted to punish, 'disappear' or sentence to death would not be adequately punished/disappeared/killed in Hong Kong, they could simply order the government they ultimately control to send that person to China - even if the alleged crime had not been committed in China. Even if whatever action the Chinese government wanted to punish was taken in a place where it was legal, such as Hong Kong or Taiwan. Then China could do what they liked with that person.

Don't believe me? Ask Lee Ming-che, who is currently serving a prison sentence in China despite having committed no crime (what he did took place in Taiwan, where such actions are quite legal - not China.) And he's not the only one.

Under such a system, Hong Kong would have the appearance of a semi-elected governing body and fair, independent judiciary tasked with upholding residents' and visitors' access to their legal and human rights, but in fact every last one of them would be ultimately subject to the much less fair and transparent Chinese legal system - as their extradition could be requested at any time. It would be very difficult to convince skeptics (and a complicit international media) that this is the case, because on paper, Hong Kong wouldn't have the same legal framework as China. In reality, the difference between them would not matter at all.

What does this have to do with me?

I go to China sometimes, and I know that I risk being detained over my criticisms of the CCP. It probably won't happen - there's an element of white privilege (although they have detained non-Asians), and the fact that I'm relatively obscure and will probably stay that way. They seem to be more reticent to detain US citizens. I write in English for an English-speaking audience on a platform blocked in China; my work isn't aimed at China or Chinese readers. But imagine that one day they do decide that I'm trouble, and need to be dealt with.

I'd probably be aware of that well before I tried to enter China, which at that point I might simply stop doing. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is supposed to be a place I can visit where I would still have some basic protections and access to human rights. Under this new extradition law, however, the Chinese government could order the Hong Kong government to send me to China for trial, despite having done nothing illegal in China itself - or anywhere else (nothing I write is illegal in Taiwan or, ostensibly, Hong Kong.)

Now imagine that Taiwan is forced to come under the same 'One Country Two Systems' framework as Hong Kong, either through some annexationist effort from China or Taiwanese blundering into electing a (potentially) a bought-and-paid-for stooge of the CCP groomed to run on a populist, "let's all get rich" platform with absolutely no substance or follow-through, but very attractive rhetoric that cuts right to some endorphin center in enough people's brains. That elected someone would sign over Taiwan's sovereignty for the right price, or no price at all.

China would insist that "One Country Two Systems" would allow Taiwan to keep its current political structure, but in practice everything that's happening in Hong Kong would start to happen here. Intentional flooding of immigrants from China who disrupt elections. Beijing-backed candidates running in races. Beijing-opposed candidates being kicked out of office on bogus charges until everyone in the "elected" Taiwanese government is sufficiently pro-China. The international media would play its same old fake neutrality card, claiming that perhaps this is problematic although the two places technically have different systems.

By then, the same extradition treaty they're forcing through in Hong Kong would be in force in Taiwan, as well.

And I wouldn't just be unsafe going to Hong Kong - I'd be unsafe in the country I call home. If this happens, every single thing I write on Lao Ren Cha could be the thing that lands me in a Chinese prison - despite living in a place that would seem to have its own democratic government and independent legal system. Both, however, would be irrelevant. China could simply tell the government it controls to "send her over", and that'd be that. For all intents and purposes, I'd be under the Chinese legal system.

You know I consider it a moral obligation not to keep my mouth shut about political injustice. How do you think that would go for me? I don't expect random readers to sympathize with the idea that Taiwan is my home and I don't have another one I can easily 'return' to, and I admit to the privilege of having that blue passport. But you guys - my actual friends and family - you know that this is my home and deciding to 'just leave' isn't so simple. 


This obviously affects Taiwanese citizens even more - they'd be more unsafe than me, with fewer places to go. Please remember that. But, as I'm addressing my friends outside Asia right now, all of those people might seem like abstractions. They're unknown - a large population you have no connection with. Far away. You know me, though. You have a connection with me. This shouldn't be an abstraction. It could affect someone who is actually a part of your life.

I shouldn't have to put it this way - that millions of Taiwanese people would be at risk should be enough to scare you. It should be enough to care. But I'm aware that when talking about large groups of people you don't know from a far-away foreign country you've never visited, it's hard to apply that same level of individual human concern. I ask you to try - but if your brain just won't cooperate, make it personal. Think of me.

Don't like that? Well, let me show you how it's even worse.

I can't substantiate this, but the story flicking around Twitter is that shady pro-CCP groups offered to pay pretty decent sums of money to get a few hundred people to come out to support the extradition law, because they know it's so unpopular. If true, they are literally fabricating support for CCP initiatives to make it seem like this is some sort of controversial issue with many sides. It's not - Hong Kong residents are quite clearly opposed to it.




There is also word (as of when I am writing this) that police beatings are breaking out in Hong Kong.

Even sadder?

Despite the massive size of this protest - I don't think either side estimated that many people would turn out - this law will probably be passed, and Hong Kong will become just as unsafe as China for anyone who expresses opinions the CCP doesn't like.

In Taiwan, a protest this size might just be a wake-up call. Though its light is fading, the Sunflower Movement had a real effect here and its spirit lives on in some of us. In Hong Kong, this should be a clarion call to LegCo (the city's legislative body) not to pass this law - but LegCo is in the CCP's pocket, and the CCP doesn't care.

But hold on tight - if these protests continue, things could get tense in Hong Kong, in exactly the way they need to. It counts for something that people are standing and fighting. Don't stop.

And friends in far-flung places - please don't forget that this isn't an abstraction. It's not some boring legal battle going on in a place you don't know well, affecting people you don't care about on a personal level. However tangentially, it affects me. I know we all have a lot of competing issues battling for space in our hearts and minds, but it's worth your time to care about this. 

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.