As same-sex couples lined up to register their marriages in Taiwan on Friday, the day that the democratic island's marriage equality law took effect, veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about his 33 years of activism, which culminated in the first legal same-sex marriages in Asia. Chi first made headlines in 1986 at the age of 28, when he petitioned Taiwan's Legislative Yuan to be allowed to marry his boyfriend. At that time, Taiwan was still under martial law and under the authoritarian rule of the Kuomintang
When I first started fighting for the right to same-sex marriage in 1986, the political situation had yet to loosen up. I was immediately arrested [and detained] for more than six months. In the Tucheng Detention Center where they locked me up were [then political activist] Chen Shui-bian [who later became a democratically elected president] ... four of us in total, all political prisoners, one each to a room.
Their three wives took turns to send us home-cooked food. When they were sent to the house, they would divide it into four, meaning that there was also a portion for me, so I got to taste in turn all of the food made by their wives. I thought, I'm fighting for the revolution, but at least I’m still safe and secure; at least I can get by.
My appeal was for marriage equality for gay people: that even in an era when freedom of speech was still very tightly controlled, it should always be regarded as a beautiful thing. What's more, homosexuals were demanding equal rights in marriage. We weren't asking heterosexuals to divorce and marry someone of the same gender.
I later learned through certain channels that [then president] Chiang Ching-kuo heard that there was a man who was locked in political prison for shouting about wanting to marry a man. [Chiang] Ching-kuo was a wise leader. He told them: "That's wasn't a clever thing to do!"
No sooner had he said that than the people lower down the ranks realized it had been mishandled ... and they let me go pretty soon afterwards.
Out of 7.5 million votes cast in [a November 2018] referendum on gay marriage, 3.5 million were in support. A lot of gay people were very disappointed at this, and there were nine suicides of LGBT people in the month following the referendum.
But this was a short-term result; the support has risen in the longer term. Seventy percent of those who voted against it were over 60, while 85 percent of the under-30 age group supported it.
The education received by young people born since 1974 hasn't been centered around the misconception that homosexuality is a disease. I predict that by 2034, pretty much nobody will raise an eyebrow if you're gay. It will be of no interest.
It matters hugely that we now have marriage equality, but does it prove that gay people are now treated with total dignity? I think if you take a negative view, there will still be unconscious contempt, but if you take a more positive view, there is also unconscious respect, so we should encourage the more positive view.
Gay pride marches play a kind of cheer-leading role in this respect.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.