In 2019, Taiwan was the first Asian nation to pass a same sex marriage bill.
This month was the first anniversary of the the passage of the bill.
Issues remain however, not least the fact that same sex marriage can only take place under a ’special bill’ – and is not afforded the same stature as heterosexual marriage in civil law.
Bias remains in some areas though, so we interviewed Olivia Tsai, chief secretary of the Taiwan LGBT Hotline Association to discuss improvements and the problems remaining for LGBT and transgender groups in Taiwan
What does the Taiwan LGBT Hotline Association do?
Basically, we have lots of volunteers and workers who answer all the hotline calls, listen to people’s worries and sometimes offer what help they can.
We also have a hotline for the parents of homosexual children to provide consultation services after these parents have become aware that their kids are homosexual, but might be confused about how to act.
All of our volunteers and workers are themselves homosexual, to let callers know we understand you.
We also help promote gender equality education in schools, by giving speeches. This makes homosexual kids at school understand they are not alone.
In addition we provide an anonymous HIV testing service. The stigmas toward gay people are everywhere. We give people a safe place to test without being judged.
We help anyone, be they transgender, HIV+, and also older gay men and women, come out of the closet to family etc.
What kind of LGBT+ issues are now being promoted?
Although the bill was passed last year, things are still not totally equal.
This bill does not allow Taiwanese wanting to marry another person of the same sex to marry foreigners from countries where same sex marriage is not allowed.
Also, the issue of adopting children is still a problem. Same sex male couples cannot have joint custody of a child as this only goes to the person who adopts the child legally.
However, female couples can have joint custody if the child is the child of one of the women in the marriage. but this is not the same in male-male couples.
We hope people can focus on these issues and could make the bill better for all.
How does Taiwanese society still need to improve vis-a-vis transgender issues?
Transgender groups did not really acquire many benefit from the same sex marriage bill.
The main problem is the use of bathrooms.
Gender identity for transgender men and women is much more complicated than for homosexuals.
If I am a biological boy, but I consider myself a girl then which toilet should I go to ?
Am I allowed to go to a female bathroom?
Bathroom use for these minorities is still an issue that needs to be improved upon.
As are issues for when they find a job. Can all employers accept that their employee might be transgender?
Have there been any changes after the bill was passed ?
Yes, when the government officially admitted the rights of homosexual people, the swing-voter is gradually learning to accept these concepts.
This of course means that homosexuals are now more likely to come out the closet and to marry their loved ones.
Also, the general population can now understand more about LGBT+ groups.
Schools too are seeing gender equality and homosexual education as more important than before.
And what about older homosexuals ?
Older homosexuals might face more pressure.
These are people who might be more scared of coming out the so-called closet, and might even have gone further back into the closet, as they have become older, or have lived in special institutions that are not welcoming of homosexuals.
Indeed, they might face abuse, discrimination or even mistreatment. They cannot act like what they wanted to when they were younger.
What’s the most touching story you have encountered while you have been in the association?
We usually hold events for transgender people to meet each other.
Once, a mother signed up a kid to meet other trans-people. The kid was shy and silent at first. However, he started smiling when he listened to people talking. The mother told me: “I have not seen him smile for a really long time.”
This story made me feel like we really did the right thing in providing the necessary resources for those who need it.
What was the feeling after the result of the referendum was made public?
We held a temporary gathering in ‘228 Memorial Park’ right after the result was announced. Around 200-300 people came to encourage each other.
The result was predictable, but this did not stop people’s disappointment.
Our job is to catch people when they are down.
On the plus side though, on May 24th, 2019, the day same sex marriage officially became legal, a middle aged woman told me “today is the end of a role play I have played my entire life. I no longer need to lock myself in a closet.”