It might have rained on their parade, but Taiwan’s wet weather did not dampen the spirits of Asia’s largest gay pride march, as over 80,000 took to the streets of the capital, Taipei, on Saturday to call for equal rights and same-sex marriage.
Rainbow umbrellas went up, matching a sea of multi-coloured flags and hats, in a typically flamboyant scene that included lederhosen, gravity-defying gold heels, and a dozen young men clad in tiny briefs to advertise a gay social network app with their impeccable pecs.
At 2.30pm, as two giant rainbow banners were unfurled and a brass band struck up, the crowd cheered.
Participants strike poses as they take part in the annual Taiwan lesbian gay pride march
This year, more than any in Taipei Pride’s 14 year history, the LGBT community had something to celebrate: same-sex marriage may finally be within their reach, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to grant full equality to LGBT couples.
On the eve of the parade, Taiwan’s Justice Minister, Chin Tai-san, gave marchers fresh hope by pledging that the new government, elected earlier this year, had a clear position on same-sex marriage and backed equality.
The official parade theme was “fun together, honor diversity”, but many in the crowd said that marriage equality was their priority.
A participant holds a sign as people take part in the annual Taiwan lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride parade in Taipei
“It would make me so proud if my country became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage,” said businessman Ted Chen, who was marching with his Australian teacher boyfriend, Sam Livingston.
The couple, who recently moved to Taiwan after meeting in Thailand 18 months ago, were bashful about whether they were personally ready to marry, but said they desired the right to do so “one day.”
Taiwan, an island of 23 million, is in many ways a liberal beacon in a region where the citizens of some countries can still be jailed for their sexual orientation.
A group of students from Malaysia, where the LGBT community faces intense discrimination, were wide-eyed but enjoying the spectacle. “People here are so free. Our government would never allow it,” said Lim Huienn, one of the group.
But while Taiwan is at the forefront of LGBT rights in Asia, with polls showing a majority of the public favor marriage equality, it has still struggled to change its laws due to a vocal, influential minority who oppose it.
Gay rights groups believe the tide may have turned only in the past few weeks after the suspected suicide of French Professor Jacques Picoux, who died shortly after his long-term Taiwanese partner, Tseng Ching-chao, passed away from cancer.
Friends believe he took his own life on 16 October, distraught that he was denied any say in his partner’s treatment and was then left with no legal claim over the property they shared.
His tragic death appears to have galvanized public sympathy, paving the way for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] to table a bill to change the civil code to grant gay couples equal rights in marriage and parental authority.
Yu Mei-nu, the DPP politician who drafted the bill, said she believed it now had the momentum to succeed, possibly as early as next year. “This time it is time,” she said.