At the end of October, no fewer than two conferences were held in Taipei (Taiwan), at which a great deal of attention was paid to LGBTI-rights. The first was the worldwide FIDH-congress (Fédération Internationale pour les Droits Humains) that looked at the global human rights situation in general and also had a panel discussion on LGBTI rights. The second was the EU-Taiwan & Asia Human Rights of LGBTI Conference specifically on LGBTI-rights.

The attention paid to LGBTI-rights could easily be explained: Taiwan legalized recently same-sex marriage with a special law (with limitations on international marriage, adoption and so on). A few days after the conferences, the annual Pride took place in Taipei. 

What was remarkable about the conferences was that the first one was opened by the president of Taiwan and the second by the vice-president. In addition, several ministers were present at the discussions and meetings. Apparently, the political leaders of Taiwan fully defended their decision to give LGBTI-residents more rights. 

Remarkable because a referendum one year earlier indicated that as many as 70% of the citizens did not want marriage to be opened up to same sex couples or that there would be teaching on gender equality in schools. One would thus rather expect politicians to adopt an anti, or at least cautious, stance.

However, Taiwan also lives at odds with its neighbour China. China regards the island as a renegade province and the threat of occupation by China is therefore constantly present. That is why the Taiwanese Government is trying to make a difference with its neighbour in everything it does. In this way, they resolutely opt for democracy, in contrast to the totalitarian regime in China, and they make respect for human rights a key issue in Taiwanese politics.

At the beginning of 2020, there will be presidential elections in Taiwan. Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent president who is very critical of China, is again standing as a candidate. By making human rights (and thus also LGBTI-rights) one of the election themes, she asks the population to choose either China’s or Taiwan’s model. Especially now that the Taiwanese people are seeing how the protests in Hong Kong are increasingly aggressively suppressed by the People’s Republic or how the country is massively locking Uighurs, a Muslim minority, into so-called ‘re-education camps’, the president is counting on this to help her to win a second term in office. 

It would be too short-sighted to explain the openness towards the Taiwanese LGBTI-community solely through this political game, but it is clear that all this has given the LGBTI-rights a serious boost. However, the outcome of the elections is far from certain. There is therefore a real risk that the newly acquired rights would be reversed in the event of a loss. It makes these elections a thrilling battle for the local LGBTI’s. The massive turnout at the Taipei Pride 2019, where more than 200,000 people were marching, was therefore a very strong signal.