Showing posts with label Taiwan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Taiwan. Show all posts

October 10, 2017

"Small Talk" (Taiwan's LGBT Movement) Submitted to Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences






The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced the complete list of country submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2018 Oscars. Titles garnering hype include Foxtrot, an Israeli film about an IDF soldier’s grieving parentsBPM: Beats Per Minute, a depiction of France’s AIDS crisis in the early 90s; and In the Fade, a German drama about a woman’s search for justice against neo-Nazi terrorists.
By comparison, the nominations coming from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China have not attracted much buzz internationally, but each region’s submission touches on issues in that capture the ambitions, desires, and insecurities of its people. Taken as a trio, they provide the perfect glimpse into three culturally distinct but closely intertwined, places.

Small Talk: Taiwan’s LGBT movement

Shot over a nearly 20-year period, Small Talk is a documentary on filmmaker Huang Hui-Chen's attempts to connect with her emotionally distant mother Anu. While working as a Taoist priestess in Taipei, Anu maintained many romances with women in an era when homosexuality was taboo. While she never attempted to hide her sexuality, she also never discussed it with her daughter. Huang tries to break her mother’s silence on her past, coaxing her through the film’s titular chit-chat.
Critics describe Small Talk as a portrait of a relationship rather than a politically charged argument about homosexuality in Taiwan. “The documentary doesn’t aim to criticize the country’s current socio-political climate or use Anu’s accounts to generalize its human rights issues. Quite the contrary: the film charms with its ability to stay compelling and critical by merely centering on one family, whose struggles feel more realistic and salient than those of a whole nation,” writes Point of View Magazine.
But the film also comes as Taiwan’s LGBT movement reaches its apex. Small Talk hit theaters in Taiwan weeks before the island’s top court declared a civil code barring same-sex marriage unconstitutional—paving the way for its eventual legalization. That landmark decision placed Taiwan well ahead of its peers in Asia on gay rights, including Australia and Hong Kong
 Chinese moviegoers have flocked to Wolf Warrior 2. The film has raked in 5.6 billion yuan ($824 million) to date at China’s box office (link in Chinese), making it the highest-grossing film ever in the country. Explosions and car chase certainly help draw viewers, but there is also a palpable sense of increasing nationalism (paywall) among Chinese citizens themselves. In Africa and elsewhere, China has asserted itself more aggressively, at times championing itself as a bastion of globalization particularly at a time when America’s leadership role is in question. Meanwhile, many Chinese individuals, whether online or in real life, are standing up for China’s interests in the face of criticism from abroad. After years of watching white men save the world, Wolf Warrior 2 gives Chinese audiences a hero of its own.

WRITTEN BY

June 7, 2017

Anti Gay Group in Taiwan Gets Criticized By Demanding Rainbow Be Brought Down



High School in Taiwan displaying the colors.
The battle against intolerance in Taiwan looks set to continue




A prominent anti-gay rights group in Taiwan has been criticized after it demanded a high school stop prominently displaying a large "rainbow" banner.
Students at a high school in Taipei last week raised the banner, the international symbol of LGBT rights, ahead of a graduation ceremony held on June 3.

According to a local media report, in the days before the ceremony, members of the Defend Family Student League (捍衛家庭學生聯盟), a group linked to conservative religious organizations, contacted the high school urging it to remove the flag.

The banner was taken down earlier this week. Students have complained it was removed earlier than planned because of the pressure put on the school by the league. The school reportedly discussed the issue with students on Monday and resolved to take down the flag.


The rainbow flag at the center of the controversy. Image from the Defend Family Student League's Facebook page.

Gay rights advance in Taiwan

The issue comes less than two weeks after a landmark court decision paved the way for Taiwan to become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

On May 24, in a major decision that made waves around the world, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court said the current ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The court said Taiwan's current Civil Code, which says an agreement to marry could only be made between a man and a woman, "violated" the constitution's guarantees of freedom of marriage and people's equality, AFP reported at the time.

It gave Taiwan's government two years to implement the ruling. If parliament does not make the change within two years, the court said same-sex couples could register to marry regardless, based on its interpretation.

The push for equal marriage rights has gathered momentum in Taiwan with hundreds of thousands rallying in support in recent months.
But there has also been anger among conservative groups, who have staged mass protests against any change to the marriage law.

A timeline of the struggle for same-sex marriage in Taiwan:

1986: Chi Chia-wei requests notarized marriage between two males. He is the first person in Taiwan to call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, and his request is denied by the government.

1996: Author Hsu Yu-sheng (許佑生) and his Uruguayan partner Gray Harriman hold Taiwan’s first public gay wedding ceremony.
2000: Chi Chia-wei requests a constitutional interpretation on same-sex marriage, but is rejected by the Grand Justices.
2006: Democratic Progressive Party legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) proposes a same-sex marriage law, but it does not pass the first reading.
2011: Gay rights activist Nelson Chen (陳敬學) and his partner Kao Chih-wei (高治瑋) filed an administrative lawsuit for official recognition of their marriage at the Taipei High Court. They withdrew the suit in January 2013.
2013: The Taiwan Alliance to Promote Partnership Rights drafts a marriage equality bill, a civil partnership bill, and a family bill. The bills passed a first reading in October. The bill stalls after protests from anti-LGBT groups.
2014: The Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee reviews the marriage equality bill, the first time in Asia a marriage equality bill is heard at a parliament. However, the review ends with no clear conclusion.
October 2016: Jacques Picoux, a French professor at the National Taiwan University commits suicide, sparking renewed interest in LGBT rights in Taiwan.
November 2016: Draft amendments to the Civil Code to allow same-sex marriage proposed by DPP legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) pass the first reading at the Legislative Yuan.
December 2016: Legislator Yu Mei-nu’s draft amendments pass a review by the Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, making it the first same-sex marriage bill to pass reviews at the Legislative Yuan.
March 24, 2017: Taiwan’s Constitutional Court holds a hearing to debate the constitutionality of the Civil Code.
May 24: Constitutional Court verdict announced.
  by AFP.

May 24, 2017

Gay Marriage is Coming to Taiwan 🌈






In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, Taiwan's constitutional court positioned the country to become the first in Asia to recognize same-sex marriages.
Previously, Taiwan's civil code had stipulated that marriage must be between a man and a woman. But in a majority opinion, the court ruled that the ban on same-sex unions ran afoul of two articles of the country's constitution that uphold human dignity and equality in the eyes of the law, according to the Associated Press.

The legislature now has two years to either amend the existing civil code or to enact new laws pertaining to same-sex couples.
For LGBT activists in Taiwan — one of the most liberal democracies in Asia, according to the AP — the victory was hard-won.

On Wednesday, hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters gathered outside the legislature near the country's capital, Taipei, to wave flags and blast noisemakers. 
Tarah Demant, Program Director for Amnesty International's Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program, said the hope is that the court's decision is the beginning of a broad trend "not only for Taiwan, but the entire region."

"There's broad homophobia globally, and Asia is no exception," she said in an interview Wednesday. "In the face of what can feel like growing discrimination, growing nativism, a growing sense of people doubling down on anti-human rights protectionist policy, this is a step forward towards human rights for all people and not just for a certain class of people."
Polls show that a majority of the Taiwanese public supports same-sex marriage, as do both the current ruling and major opposition parties. A bill to enforce the ruling is already making its way through the legislature, the AP reported.


May 12, 2017

Chi Chi-Wei Says Taiwan Will Be The 1st Place in Asia with Gay Marriage



This file photo taken on March 24, 2017 shows veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei (C) speaking to the press with his supporters in front of the Judicial Yuan in Taipei. For Chi Chia-wei the imminent court decision that could make Taiwan the first place in Asia to recognise gay marriage is his greatest shot at justice after decades of tireless campaigning. The celebrated activist, who has led the island's gay rights movement for nearly 30 years, will know on May 24, 2017 whether his battle for marriage equality has been won when Taiwan's constitutional court rules on his latest petition. (AFP/Sam Yeh)
 
For Chi Chia-wei the imminent court decision that could make Taiwan the first place in Asia to recognise gay marriage is his greatest shot at justice after decades of tireless campaigning.

"It's been so long, my hair has gone grey!" says 59-year-old Chia, who often appears in public draped in rainbow flags.

The celebrated activist, who has led the island's gay rights movement for nearly 30 years, will know on May 24 whether his battle for marriage equality has been won when Taiwan's constitutional court rules on his latest petition.

At the center of the case is a clause in Taiwan's Civil Code which says an agreement to marry should be made between a man and a woman.

Read also: Website offers clothing alterations for LGBT customers

Chi wants the court to rule on whether that part of the Civil Code contravenes elements in Taiwan's constitution which guarantee equality and freedom of marriage.

The decision is binding, so a ruling in his favour would pave the way for same-sex unions to be legalised.

Chi says he is optimistic, but his excitement is tempered by the length of time it has taken to get this far. 

"This should have happened long ago. It's belated justice," he told AFP.

Chi is one of two petitioners bringing the case.

The other is the Taipei City government which is seeking clarification as authorities in Taiwan have been rejecting applications for same-sex marriages based on the Civil Code clause. 

Chi says this time there is much more public momentum for change -- in December, a pro-gay marriage rally drew 250,000 people according to organisers. 

"It was just a one-man campaign when I started -- now I have 250,000 people beside me. I am not alone in doing what is right," Chi said.

Read also: Court: Civil Rights law prohibits discrimination of LGBT

- 'One right thing' -

Raised by liberal-minded parents supportive of his sexual orientation, they encouraged him to fight for his beliefs. 

He came out to friends at high school and says he was surprised by how accepting they were.

After starting out as a rights activist for HIV and AIDS sufferers, Chi became a full-time advocate for gay rights after meeting his partner 29 years ago. 

But while he may have had support from his family and peers, outspoken Chi has had numerous run-ins with authorities. 

In 1986, when Taiwan was still under martial law, Chi says he was imprisoned for five months after submitting his first petition asking for gay marriage to be recognised. 

The charges linked him with a robbery and were entirely fabricated, he says. 

Since then his appeals for a change in the marriage law have been rejected by government agencies and courts, including a failed petition to the constitutional court in 2001. 

"I wasn't discouraged by the setbacks. That's how I have been able to carry on for so long," says Chi.

Read also: The LGBT community: Youngest

"My belief is that if you can do one right thing in this life, it's all worth it."

A lack of support in parliament has also previously meant the gay marriage debate stalled. 

However, campaigners were given new hope when Tsai Ing-wen won the presidency last year and openly supported marriage equality. 

With her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the majority, parliament passed the first draft of a bill to legalise gay marriage in December and it is due for a second reading later this year. 

But while there is more support than ever for gay marriage in Taiwan, recent debate has also exposed deep divisions in society. 

Conservative groups say allowing same-sex unions would destroy family values and opponents have staged mass rallies in recent months, including a protest outside the constitutional court hearing in March. 

Chi says those who are against him accuse him of "spreading heresy" and attention-seeking. They belittle his relationship with his partner, comparing it to children playing house, he says.  

"I am not doing this for my own interests," Chi said. 

"My partner and I are an old couple now and getting married is not a priority for us. But other gay couples need legal protection.”

AMBER WANG
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

November 1, 2016

80 Thousands Get to the Streets for Taiwan Gay Pride

 

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.

May 15, 2015

Stupidity and 2 GuysFellatio on a Taiwan Train




The EMU800.

Kaohsiung, May 14 (CNA) Four men were arrested on Thursday in connection to a video that surfaced on the Internet showing one of the suspects performing oral sex on another on a Taiwan Railway commuter train.

In the 29-second video, a suspect surnamed Pan (潘), 34, had performed fellatio on another suspect surnamed Wu (吳), 32, while being filmed by a suspect surnamed Huang (黃), 47, according to the police. Another suspect surnamed Cheng (鄭), 27, had leaked the video on the Internet, the police said.

Taiwan Rail Administration officials became irate after they learned of the video after the website of Apple Daily (Taiwan) broke the news and alerted the police.

As on-board announcements of“approaching Fengshan station”could be heard clearly in the video, local police said they were able to verify that the incident had taken place on a EMU800 local commuters' train traveling northbound from southern Taiwan's Pingtung County to Fengshan. That helped them track down the suspects.

The act had been performed in the vicinity of a unsuspecting male commuter, who had sat in the same carriage, according to a statement released by the Kaohsiung Precinct of the Railway Police Bureau.

All four men have been arrested and charged with public indecency and spreading indecent material.

The four suspects said that they had met and arranged for their escapade through a chat group on the instant messaging app LINE, according to the police. They then carried out the act during the daytime on April 27, a Monday.

The video in question was shared amongst members of the chat group, the suspects told the police.

Investigators also discovered that Cheng, the man who leaked the video on the Internet, did not know the three other suspects, and was not on the train at the time. The Railway police said he came across the video on the Internet and decided to upload it on his Microsoft cloud account because he "thought it would be fun" to let other people see it.

Police said they were able to nab Cheng after they hacked into Cheng's Microsoft cloud storage account.

If convicted, the suspects can be sentenced to up to two years in prison.

In a statement posted on the railway administration's website, Lo Chun-hsiung (羅俊雄), chief of the railway police's Kaohsiung precinct, said that its "eagle-eyed officers" are always on the lookout for "heinous offenses against morality" on the vital public transportation system, and warned the public against testing the mettle of law enforcement.

(By Cheng Chi-feng and Ted Chen)

October 30, 2014

Taiwan the Beacon for Gay Rights in Asia



                                                                          

 TAIPEI, Taiwan — Waving rainbow flags and banners demanding same-sex marriage, the revelers set off from Taiwan’s presidential palace, drawing cheers and thumbs-up from spectators along the way.

For the 13th year in a row, the gay pride march took over the streets of the capital on Saturday in a boisterous, freewheeling demonstration of how far Taiwan has come in the two decades since multiparty democracy replaced martial law and authoritarian rule.

But the loudest applause rose when a Malaysian flag or a troupe of Japanese dancers in traditional folk outfits, envoys from more restrictive locales, were spotted amid the throng. Carrying a handmade placard from Beijing’s gay and lesbian community center above his head, James Yang could barely advance along the parade route because so many strangers wanted to be photographed by his side.

“I’ve been to gay pride marches in New York, San Diego and Los Angeles, but this is so emotional for me,” said Mr. Yang, 39, the center’s director of development. “It’s really exciting, but at the same time, the outpouring of support reminds me of how far behind we are in China.”

At a time when laws legalizing same-sex marriage are sweeping the United States, Latin America and Europe, gay rights advocates across Asia are still struggling to secure basic protections.

Brunei has instituted strict Shariah laws that criminalize gay relationships, conservative legislators in the Indonesian province of Aceh last month passed an ordinance punishing gay sex with 100 lashes, and on Wednesday the highest court in Singapore upheld a law that carries a two-year jail term for men who engage in any act of “gross indecency,” in public or private. In one Malaysian state, effeminate boys are shipped off to boot camp in an effort to reshape their behavior.

When it comes to gay rights in Asia, Taiwan is a world apart. Openly gay and lesbian soldiers can serve in the military, and the Ministry of Education requires textbooks to promote tolerance for gays and lesbians. In recent years, legislators here have passed protections for gays, including a law against workplace discrimination.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been introduced in Taiwan’s legislature, although it still faces strong opposition from Christian activists and their allies in the governing Kuomintang.

“Taiwan is an inspiration for much of Asia,” said Grace Poore, director of Asia and Pacific Island programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “They are way ahead of their neighbors.”

With its lively news media, panoply of grass-roots organizations and a robust, if sometimes noisy, democracy, this self-governing island has become a beacon for liberal political activism across Asia. Taiwan’s environmental movement has emerged as a formidable electoral force, and in April, opponents of atomic energy succeeded in halting construction of the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant, although a final decision on the facility may be put to a public referendum.

Continue reading the main story
Democracy advocates who have occupied the streets of Hong Kong for over a month studied the tactics of the student protesters in Taiwan who earlier this year took over the Legislative Yuan in an effort to halt a trade pact they said would leave Taiwan vulnerable to pressure from mainland China, which considers the island part of its territory.

“We may have a small population, but our influence is bigger than our size,” said Yu Meinu, a legislator from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. “The level of free speech is unlike anywhere else.”

Ms. Yu, who introduced the island’s first marriage equality bill into the legislature two years ago, said one of Taiwan’s greatest assets was its thriving collection of civil society groups. “A lot of the calls for reform come from the bottom up, not from the government,” she said. “And when people here see injustice, they are not afraid to stand up and make their voices heard.”

But the wellspring of opposition to same-sex marriage has highlighted the limits of liberal activism. Last December, at the same spot where gay and lesbian marchers gathered over the weekend, an estimated 150,000 people rallied against the legislation.

Min Daixi, vice president of the Unification Church and a leader in the Taiwan Family Protection Alliance, said same-sex unions were a threat to traditional families. “They are trying to redefine a concept that our society was built upon,” he said.

Victoria Hsu, who heads the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, acknowledged that the battle for same-sex marriage faced strong opposition. But she said she was encouraged that the three leading candidates for Taipei mayor — a job on the résumé of every president since 1988 — have all expressed support for same-sex marriage, which to her suggests that the legalization of same-sex unions is simply a matter of time. “It’s not a question of if, but of when,” she said. Several polls over the past year have found that more than 50 percent of people in Taiwan support same-sex marriage.

Religious life here, for the most part, is dominated by Buddhism and Taoism, faiths with little doctrinal resistance to homosexuality. Although they make up less than 5 percent of Taiwan’s 23 million people, Christians have formed the bulwark of the opposition. “Taiwanese are really tolerant,” said Ms. Poore of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “It’s not the kind of place where gays and lesbians have to worry about violence if they are affectionate in public.”

In addition to scores of bars, clubs and gay bookstores, one well-trod tourist attraction is a Taoist shrine dedicated to a rabbit deity — based on an 18th-century Qing dynasty official who was said to be gay — who has become something of a patron saint to gay worshipers seeking good fortune.

Still, in many respects, Taiwan remains a traditional society bound by a sense of Confucian filial duty that emphasizes family and the production of heirs. Edgar Chang, 34, a chemical engineer who was wearing a rhinestone-encrusted tiara and feather boa on Saturday, said he is out to his friends but has not summoned the courage to tell his parents he has had a boyfriend for the past three years. “I don’t think they would disown me, but at the same time, I think it might kill them because they really want a grandchild,” he said.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
The gay pride march has come a long way since 2003, when some participants wore masks to conceal their identities. Albert Yang, 37, one of the parade organizers, recalled his trepidation that year as the march set off with just a handful of participants. “A lot of people didn’t dare join, but they slowly worked their way into the crowd, and by the time we finished, there were 600 or 700 people,” he said.

This year, more than 65,000 people joined the march, according to organizers. They included contingents of Filipinos, Malaysians, Singaporeans, and a much smaller number of mainland Chinese, most of whom are restricted from traveling to Taiwan on their own by strict visa requirements imposed by both governments.

Although the Chinese Communist Party takes a mostly hands-off approach to homosexual activity, there are no legal protections for gays in China, and the authorities have become less tolerant of AIDS organizations and gay rights advocates as part of a wider campaign against nongovernmental organizations.

Waving a large rainbow flag over the crowd, Hiro, a 48-year-old television station employee from Tokyo, said it was his eighth time at the parade. “For gay Japanese, this is the event of the year,” he said, declining to give his full name out of concern it could cause problems at work. “I only wish we were as brave as the Taiwanese and could do something like this in Japan.”

Surveying the march from the sidelines, Jay Lin, 46, said he thought Taiwan could do more to promote its live-and-let-live ethos at a time when the island’s economy is slowing. “We have become a beacon for human rights issues across Asia,” said Mr. Lin, who this year started Taiwan’s first gay and lesbian film festival. “This is a strong selling point, and if the government was smart, they would recognize that this is our soft power and market it to the rest of the world.”


Chen Jiehao contributed research from Beijing

August 22, 2013

Conservative Taiwan Likely to Consider Gay Marriage

Tens of thousands march during Taiwan Pride 2012
 2012 Pride


BANGKOK}  On a sweltering Saturday night in Bangkok's Patpong entertainment district, a group of men spill out of a neon-lit bar blasting dance music. Among them is Aashif Hassan and his long-term partner, both visitors from Malaysia.
"We're celebrating tonight. Where we're from, it's illegal to be gay. Here we feel liberated," said Hassan.
Known for its laissez-faire attitude, Thailand has positioned itself as a holiday destination for gay couples and could soon be cashing in on another niche market if a proposed law makes it the first Asian country to legalize gay marriage.
Other Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei ban sexual relationships between men, but Thailand has become a regional haven for same-sex couples.
A civil partnership law in the works aims to give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples the same rights as heterosexuals. One lawmaker sees it passing by next year. 
Same-sex unions are not currently recognized under Thai law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. That stops gay couples applying for joint bank loans or medical insurance.
In 2012, a group of lawmakers and LGBT activists formed a committee to draft legislation recognizing same-sex couples. But critics of the law say it will not give a level playing field because it raises the age of consent to 20 from 17 for homosexual couples. For heterosexuals it is 17.
 Rights activists have another problem: the law would force transgenders to register their birth gender on their marriage certificate. Thai law makes it impossible for people to change their gender on a national identification document.
Beyond legal aspects, some wonder whether Thailand, quite conservative in many ways, is really ready to blaze this trail.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1956 but considered a mental illness as recently as 2002. Many Thai Buddhists believe homosexuality is a punishment for sins committed in a past life.
In one notorious case in 2011, Nurisan Chedurame, 24, was found dead on her village rubbish dump with her head smashed in. Local media quoted police as saying her involvement with another woman was the reason she was murdered.
That same year, two women thought to have been in a sexual relationship were shot in a rice field outside Bangkok.
A worrying pattern of violent crimes prompted the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to write to the Thai government in 2012 demanding that police stop dismissing gender-based violence as crimes of passion.
Anjana Suvarnanda, a co-founder of the Anjaree Group, an LGBT rights group, said violence towards lesbians was often blamed on the victims. Many turn to mainstream social networking sites like Facebook to air their grievances.
"Our inbox is overflowing with messages from women whose parents are pressuring them to marry men," said Anjana.
Thai film and television has no shortage of LGBT stars. But Prempreeda Pramoj Na Ayutthaya, a transgender rights activist and program officer at UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, in Bangkok, said acceptance is often superficial. 
"The entertainment industry accepts us with open arms because we poke fun at ourselves and make people laugh. But if we want to be taken seriously in a field like medicine we are not afforded the same courtesy," Prempreeda told Reuters.
Her friends will hesitate to back the draft bill, she said, because they do not want to be identified by their birth gender.
Wiratana Kalayasiri, an opposition lawmaker pushing the civil union bill, said getting it on the agenda was tough as most members of parliament have conservative views on the issue.
"At first they bad-mouthed me and wondered if I would be struck by lightning for backing this," he said.
But many now see the merits of appealing to LGBT voters, he said, predicting the bill would pass in "less than a year".
Rights activist Anjana believes there is no time to waste.
When her friend collapsed and fell into a coma, it took hours for staff at a Bangkok hospital to attend to her.
"They insisted her husband sign the medical release form. Her partner is a woman, but the nurses refused to acknowledge this," said Anjana. "We urgently need the law to protect us. The rest, including less societal pressure, will follow."
  Alan Raybould, John O'Callaghan and Ron Popeski 
(Reuters) -

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