Gay rights, Taiwan independence and anti-nuclear issues in the Presidential election

The conflation of gay rights, Taiwan’s independence and anti-nuclear issues can be a recipe for deepening fissures in society. Lianhe Zaobao correspondent Ng Soon Kiat opines that progressive values that are linked together by an election can be held hostage by politicians and political ideologies, and lose their rationality and true meanings.
A participant holds a rainbow flag on a balcony during the LGBT Pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan October 26, 2019. (REUTERS/Eason Lam)
A participant holds a rainbow flag on a balcony during the LGBT Pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan October 26, 2019. (REUTERS/Eason Lam)

October 26, I went to the front square of the Taipei municipal government building with my friends to get a taste of this year’s Taiwan Pride Parade. Because this is the first year that same-sex marriage has been legalised in Taiwan, the march was larger than in previous years, with reported crowds of up to 200,000. The atmosphere was likewise noticeably different, with a greater exuberance and pride expressed in the wake of achieving marriage equality.

With the presidential and legislative elections coming, this year’s march also had a strong political flavour. In addition to Legislative Committee Member Huang Kuo-chang, of the New Power Party, who took the initiative to attend, some candidates from the DPP Legislative Committee also showed up under the leadership of Lin Fei-fan, Deputy Secretary General of the party.

Participants could occasionally be seen holding up slogans such as ‘stand up for Xiaoying (Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen)’ or ‘support Hong Kong’. The Taiwanese people who took part in the march sang the theme song Glory to Hong Kong in support of the anti-revisionist movement in Hong Kong. Although the rainbow flag, symbol of the gay movement, was prominently displayed, green seemed to be the dominant colour of the parade.

Participants jump in a pose while taking part in the annual gay pride parade in Taipei on October 26, 2019. - Thousands including members of the LGBT community on October 26 took part in the first gay pride parade held after Taiwan earlier this year legalised same-sex marriages, the culmination of a three-decade fight for equality. (Sam Yeh/AFP)
Thousands including members of the LGBT community took part in the first gay pride parade held on October 26, 2019 after Taiwan legalised same-sex marriages, the culmination of a three-decade fight for equality. (Sam Yeh/AFP)

It is not difficult to understand the phenomenon of ‘gay support for Xiaoying’. Tsai Ing-wen, who won the backing of Taiwanese youth four years ago in the presidential election with the statement of her support for equal rights in marriage, survived the pushback from all other parties and eventually fulfilled her campaign promise to legalise same-sex marriage in Taiwan. This despite the pressure of voters from traditional members of the Pan-Green Coalition, such as the southern counties and the Presbyterian church. Appreciating that Tsai Ing-wen risked her political career to support same-sex marriage, many young people and gay rights groups form the firmest support for Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election.

But actually, the connection between the gay community and the Pan-Green Coalition is not a result of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Over the past few years, those who frequented independent bookstores or coffee shops in Taiwan would have noticed that most of them displayed ‘anti-nuclear’ banners, rainbow flags, and totems advocating Taiwan independence.

...social change and even transformation often require one to outline a better vision for the public with lofty ideas and noble appeals, holding it up against current reality to present a striking contrast...

Apparently, in the process of Taiwan’s democratisation, the two aces up the sleeve – the anti-nuclear movement and the Taiwanese independence that has been advocated by the DPP for many years – have been fused together as progressive values, and as such, have become the exclusive slogans of the Pan-Green Coalition. It also explains why Taiwan’s Pride Parade has become an alternative platform to express moral support for Hong Kong’s anti-revisionist movement.

From the perspective of political operations, the conflated progressive values provide a powerful tool for the DPP, which has leant towards radicalism, to mobilise and rally its supporting forces. Chen Xing, a professor of the Taiwan Institute at the Beijing Union University, attended the Symposium on Cross-Straits Relations several weeks ago. When analysing the structural changes in Taiwan’s public opinion and its impact, he pointed out that in terms of social policy demands, social change and even transformation often require one to outline a better vision for the public with lofty ideas and noble appeals, holding it up against current reality to present a striking contrast, prompt a dramatic change of social consciousness, or even provoke social dissatisfaction. This is the only way a trend can be started.

... it no doubt aims to further label the gay community and reinforce outsiders’ impression that Taiwan’s gay community condones the illegal street violence of Hong Kong’s ‘fighter group’ of demonstrators.

Chen Xing believes that under the long-term construction of the DPP, the anti-nuclear movement, Taiwan independence, same-sex marriage, and feisi ( 废死, abolition of the death penalty) have become the ideal appeals to Taiwanese society, with the legitimacy of these values going unchallenged. However, when the discursive power of issues concerning progressive values is monopolised, it may push the DPP to move towards radicalism, resulting in more conflicts and damages to Taiwan’s political and social development. Taking same-sex marriage as an example, we see that when the DPP hastily passed the relevant laws this past May, the gap between the pro and anti camps did not fade as time passed by, but instead widened.

Aside from that, if there is no rational thinking behind progressive values, it will weaken the quality of discussion and democratic politics. Take ‘Taiwan’s gay community supporting Hong Kong’ as an example. When ‘supporting Hong Kong’ and gay rights groups are linked by a simple slogan, it no doubt aims to further label the gay community and reinforce outsiders’ impression that Taiwan’s gay community condones the illegal street violence of Hong Kong’s ‘fighter group’ of demonstrators.

A participant holds a placard showing support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, during the LGBT Pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan October 26, 2019. REUTERS/Eason Lam
A participant holds a placard showing support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, during the LGBT Pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan October 26, 2019. (REUTERS/Eason Lam)

In the same way, when the gay community gratefully “votes friendly” in next year’s election, supporting Tsai Ing-wen and the Pan-Green Coalition Legislative Committee while choosing not to review or even to ignore the governing and moral deficiencies of the DPP in the past three years — including the much-criticised culture of political patronage and the controversial amendments to the Referendum Act that is said to deprive people of the right to exercise direct democracy (by decoupling referendums from national elections and stipulating that they are to be held biannually, starting in 2021) — progressive values will then lose their rational basis and their capacity to encourage progress through learning prompted by reflection. 

It is only when different progressive values are no longer artificially linked together by a specific election, when progressive values are based on rational thinking, and when gay rights groups are no longer held hostage by the purity of ideology and forced to support specific political parties or politicians, that progressive values may be truly manifested.

In addition, the conflated progressive values can easily become identity markers for societal groups to distinguish between the enemy and the self, resulting in ideological confrontations. For instance, on online communication platforms concerning gay issues, ‘Lan Jia’ (蓝甲, i.e., a gay group supporting the Kuomintang) has been assaulted and labelled ‘insane’ by other gay groups. This sort of online bullying clearly runs counter to the spirit of pluralism and inclusiveness that the gay movement has long prided itself on.

When former President Barack Obama shared his views on the current sectarian divisions in America’s politics, he reminded young people who advocated ‘woke’ culture that overemphasis on the purity and irreconcilability of ideology is not sustainable. The same is true in Taiwan. It is only when different progressive values are no longer artificially linked together by a specific election, when progressive values are based on rational thinking, and when gay rights groups are no longer held hostage by the purity of ideology and forced to support specific political parties or politicians, that progressive values may be truly manifested.