Almost 20 years ago, Taiwanese director Ang Lee (Li An, 李安) released The Wedding Banquet, a multilayered tale about gay love struggling for a place in a family of traditional Taiwanese values. These days Taiwanese are prepared to march in the streets for the equal right to marry.
By Stuart Hill
The Wedding Banquet was a clever reflection on the typical pressures that exist for many Taiwanese men and women in their late 20s and early 30s; to commit to what is expected: marry, settle down, and have children (and then grandchildren).
Learn more about The Wedding Banquet at IMDB.
Lee’s film covers issues that are still relevant today: multi-racial marriage; achieving one’s dreams; acceptance of gay relationships; the differences across the generations; family responsibility and obligations; male-female relations. In The Wedding Banquet these themes are woven through a story heavy on cultural references that perhaps have even more meaning for Taiwanese gays and lesbians than it does for western audiences.
The film’s conclusion reflects a typical Taiwan-style compromise: everyone gets what they want, but the means to achieving that remains a secret, something not to talk about openly.
When the film was released in the early 1990s, Taiwan was one of asia’s economic tigers: industry was booming, the media was freer, and politics was fast approaching direct presidential elections. Society was also accommodating changes in lifestyle.
Fast forward to today, and the social context is quite different: a more complex economic environment and a world in the process of confronting same-sex marriage. Or as a compromise, same-sex partnerships.
In fact, these issues are a key part of the agenda for the organizers of Taiwan’s LGBT Pride, which hosts a Pride Parade for Taiwan’s gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender community every year in Taipei.
Gay rights such as legal recognition of partners has been on and off as an issue in the mainstream for several years, especially after 2003 when Taipei mayor (and now Taiwan president) Ma Ying-Jeou gave city funds in support of the parade. It was a token investment that was said to have swayed voters and given hope to those agitating for better acceptance from mainstream society.
Since then, small gains have been made, in terms of work discrimination legislation, the ratification of human rights covenants, and moves to change the way sexuality is taught in schools. Community groups such as the TongZhi Hotline have been active in attempting to educate the community about “gay issues” while finding practical ways to deal with prejudice and improve the lives of gays, lesbians and their families.
More of a march than a parade, the Taiwan Pride Parade is held on the last weekend of October. As with many similar parades around the world, it is a chance for men and women to celebrate their differences and show solidarity in standing up for the rights they deserve but don’t yet have. It is also a chance to just get out and be seen, to be proud of who you are.
First held in 2003, Taiwan Pride has grown into the biggest march for issues affecting the LGBT community across Asia. This year participants and attendees were estimated to be around 50,000 people, and every year the numbers keep growing. For gays and lesbians from nearby countries, the Taiwan Pride Parade is something of a Taipei attraction and many visitors fly in from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong to show support and enjoy the atmosphere.
A lot less commercial than many gay parades around the world, the Taiwan Pride Parade represents the effort of volunteers and local social groups to get their message out. The quality and sophistication of the parade banners and floats is also a reflection of this very grass-roots movement which works on very little external funding. However, as a social focus, the parade generates its own privately organized spin-off events, which are managed by Taipei bars and clubs to take advantage of the concentration of customers.
Several elements make the event seem different to other parades or marches in other countries. The first is that the parade itself must abide by standard traffic regulations. This means, that although the parade occupies one lane of traffic, its movement must still follow standard rules about stopping at red lights and giving way to traffic. The other is that many of those marching are relatively young. Many groups are representative of students and various community groups. The last is that the march tends to end with politically focused speeches, as well as several low-key performances by gay-friendly performers.
The growing size of the parade and the diversity of its attendees are in some way indicative of the changes in Taiwanese attitudes to sex, sexuality, family and lifestyle. There’s a sense of a growing confidence among Taiwan’s LGBT community to live their own lives. It’s not too far-fetched to think of a time when same-sex wedding banquets have entered the mainstream.