29 Sep 2008

Taipei LGBTs march proud and loud in Asia's largest gay parade

It was all cheers, noise and flamboyance when Asia's largest pride parade took to the streets in Taipei last Saturday. Fridae's Taipei correspondent Jason Tan witnesses yet another significant milestone in the community's history. Photos and additional text by Choo Lip Sin.

Pre-typhoon rains apparently failed to dampen the spirits of Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade last Saturday with the largest ever turnout of 18,000.

This is a new record compared to last year's 15,000 participants, again cementing the Taiwan march the largest in the region.

Despite occasional rains brought by Typhoon Jangmi which lashed Taiwan the following day after the parade, huge crowds - in rain coats or with umbrellas - streamed into the Taipei City Hall Square around 1pm, an hour before the parade started.

"People started to call in the morning to ask if the parade would be called off, but we told them: the march was on - rain or shine," said William Shen, aka "Gofyy," president of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, the event's co-organiser.

And he was right.

Marchers in wheelchairs, beefcakes clad only in tiny swim trunks, and a sizeable amount of expatriates were all spotted at the parade, which started to march along Ren Ai Road, An He Road, before pausing at Zhong Xiao East Road - a busy shopping/dining district similar to Singapore's Orchard Road, or Hong Kong's Causeway Bay.

Parade floats, which carry drag queens and half-naked macho men, proudly broadcast to the passersby and shopkeepers along Zhong Xiao East: "We are gays and we are proud!"

Twenty two-year-old Tony, who hails from Switzerland and arrived in Taipei two weeks ago to study Mandarin, was excited about his first Asian parade.

"I have joined parades in Europe and there were loads of fun," he said.

"I heard President Ma Ying-Jeou (then Taipei mayor) showed face to support the gay parade in Taipei before, so I am looking forward to this event."

Yes, paraders' spirits were high and its flashy carnival atmosphere grabbed media attention, but Taiwan LGBT community has indeed come a long way.

When the parade started off in 2003, only 500 people took part. The number grew to 3,000 the second year and 5,000 the third.

"The parade is a platform to educate the community, training them to be confident and proud of who they are," Gofyy said. "We want them to live and breathe as anyone else, and make their views heard by the society."

Indeed, over 80 LGBT groups signed up this year, doubled from last year's 40-plus, the organisers said. And title of the parade, for the first time, was changed from "Gay Pride" to "LGBT Pride," extending reach to bisexuals and transgenders in the family.

"Bi the Way," Taiwan's first-and-only bisexual group formed in June last year, is determined to let the society aware of their presence this year.

"People would think that bisexuals like us are enjoying lots of 'choices.' But if we tell our gay friends that we may fall for the opposite sex, they would despise us," Chen Lo-Wei, one of the founding members, told Fridae.

"We are being sidelined... Therefore, the parade gives us an avenue to find strength and support," she added.

Observers such as Hongkonger Denise Tang, applauded the progress of LGBT movement in Taiwan.

"In Taipei, we have LGBT-related parade, seminars, media outlets and supporting groups... These make the community vibrant," said Ms Tang, an assistant professor of Graduate Institute for Gender Studies at Shih Hsin University in Taipei.

Whereas in neigbouring Hong Kong, declaring that "I am gay" would require tremendous courage in the largely conservative population, she added.

Highlights of the event included the significant moment when a 90-metre long, 4.5-metre wide rainbow flag covered through the parade crowds. After that, marchers gathered again at the Taipei City Hall Square around 5pm, and the second half of the party had just started.

Invited performers including singer Chou Hui and drag queen/entertainer Topper took to the stage to vow support for the community. Performing in the parade for the fourth year straight, Topper wowed the crowds with flashy drag queen outfits and as usual - before stripping to only tops and hot pants to conclude the event.

"I had goose bumps seeing so many people here... They have their own views and they are not afraid to voice it out loud," said Angela Hsu, a 19-year-old college student who turned up to do project research with her fellow classmate.

These three to five years, when more of her friends dating the same sex, she started to contemplate on the sexuality issue and the importance of breaking stereotypes.

"We all will eventually fall for someone. And by then, whether it's a he or she, it doesn't matter," she added. - Text by Jason Tan

At around 3.30 pm, about 18,000 people stood still on Taipei city's main thoroughfare Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 to create the spectacular view of a 4.5-metre wide floating rainbow flag gradually forming along a 100-metre stretch of the street.

Thousands of pedestrians as well as buses and cars driving past Taipei's busiest shopping and commercial street during the 5-minute spectacle witnessed Asia's largest display of LGBT-themed public art display as the six-coloured rainbow flag took shape with the coordinated participation of every person in the march.

At the parade, Fridae also met four participants from the South Bay Queer & Asian (SBQA) group in San Francisco (www.sbqa.com) who told us that they flew to Taipei specially to take part in the parade. Parade marchers also came over from other part of the US, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

From Hong Kong, several representatives from support and counselling body Hong Kong Rainbow, led by Kenneth Cheung (Kenjai), and the guys behind G Dot TV (www.gdottv.com), the city's queer vodcast station, joined the parade and took the opportunity to share the news that Hong Kong's own inaugural pride parade will take place on 13 December.

This year's parade saw for the first time, disabled participants in the contingents, many of them friends of wheelchair-bound gay activist Vincent, who answered his call to lend their support to the LGBT cause. About a dozen of them joined him to complete the distance of about three kilometres on electrically-powered wheelchairs or volunteer-driven scooters.

Also among the contingents were representatives from the Green Party, a political party and vocal advocate body for respect for diversity and social justice.

It is also observed that more young people are taking part in the parade while there continue to be strong support from the teachers' unions, including the Taiwan Indigenous Teachers Association, and dozens of student organisations at the parade, a healthy indication that the effort to make educators more concerned about LGBT students and their welfare has taken root in Taiwan, after years of groundwork by various NGOs in schools and institutions to engage them on the otherwise taboo issue.

Pop vocalist Chou Hui appeared as the mystery guest at the concert which commenced at the end point of the parade. After wowing the crowd before the Taipei City Hall Square with two of her songs which are widely loved by lesbian and gay listeners, she revealed to the audience that she is no stranger to gay and lesbian people as she has long been aware that one of her family member is queer.

In his fourth year performing at the parade concert, cross-dressing television artist Da Bing brought the crowd to another high with a sexy dance number with the Raymona dance troupe.

Teddy award-winning lesbian film director Zero Chou, scholar and activist Josephine Ho, disabled queer radio presenter Vincent and Hong Kong Rainbow founder Kenneth Cheung (Kenjai) are among the people who also appeared before the crowd this year to share with passers-by and the queer audience some of the experience and work they have done in their respective fields.

Look out for more pictures and videos of the Taiwan Pride Parade 2008 on fotos@fridae to be released soon.

Fridae is proud to be the Official International Online Media of the Taiwan Pride Parade 2008. - Text by Choo Lip Sin