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Don’t Sacrifice Taiwan in the Fight for LGBT Rights

Conceding to Beijing’s demands compromises Pride’s values.

By , a Berlin-based Taiwanese American technologist and amateur athlete.
Indigenous Taiwanese dancers at the Asia Pride Games
Indigenous Taiwanese dancers at the Asia Pride Games
Indigenous Taiwanese dancers perform onstage during the opening ceremony of the Asia Pride Games in Taipei, Taiwan, on April 29. Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty images

Last Friday, the international organization charged with advancing the Pride movement, InterPride, basically forced Taiwanese organizers to cancel WorldPride Taiwan 2025, an event to promote visibility and awareness of LGBTIQ+ issues on an international level, by suddenly demanding the hosts drop the name “Taiwan” and instead use the host city’s name “Kaohsiung.” It was a regression after a ruckus last year, when InterPride referred to Taiwan as the “Taiwan Region” but then officially agreed to the name WorldPride Taiwan 2025 in planning the international gathering.

Taiwan being able to name itself properly is a point of, well, pride for the Taiwanese. China repeatedly tries to deny Taiwanese identity, including blocking its name from use by international organizations and businesses. InterPride has become a knowing accomplice to authoritarian China’s campaign to suppress Taiwanese identity. The group has offered some feeble excuses, such as claiming that Taiwan—one of the most advanced economies in the world—might not be able to put on a successful event.

This isn’t the first time an international queer organization has contorted itself to comply with Beijing, which officially claims Taiwan as a part of China, sometimes self-censoring even before the Chinese intervene. Back in 2010, I participated in the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, with a San Francisco soccer team. Right before the opening ceremony, I met the delegation from Taiwan, who exasperatedly sought my help to talk to the organizers who intended to introduce Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China.”

Last Friday, the international organization charged with advancing the Pride movement, InterPride, basically forced Taiwanese organizers to cancel WorldPride Taiwan 2025, an event to promote visibility and awareness of LGBTIQ+ issues on an international level, by suddenly demanding the hosts drop the name “Taiwan” and instead use the host city’s name “Kaohsiung.” It was a regression after a ruckus last year, when InterPride referred to Taiwan as the “Taiwan Region” but then officially agreed to the name WorldPride Taiwan 2025 in planning the international gathering.

Taiwan being able to name itself properly is a point of, well, pride for the Taiwanese. China repeatedly tries to deny Taiwanese identity, including blocking its name from use by international organizations and businesses. InterPride has become a knowing accomplice to authoritarian China’s campaign to suppress Taiwanese identity. The group has offered some feeble excuses, such as claiming that Taiwan—one of the most advanced economies in the world—might not be able to put on a successful event.

This isn’t the first time an international queer organization has contorted itself to comply with Beijing, which officially claims Taiwan as a part of China, sometimes self-censoring even before the Chinese intervene. Back in 2010, I participated in the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, with a San Francisco soccer team. Right before the opening ceremony, I met the delegation from Taiwan, who exasperatedly sought my help to talk to the organizers who intended to introduce Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China.”

I reminded the organizers that these were only called the Gay Games because the International Olympic Committee sued the inaugural 1982 Gay Olympics three weeks before the opening ceremony and forced a name change, even though it never had a problem with the Special Olympics. The Cologne organizers relented with little protest, and the delegation proudly marched as Taiwan. Back in 2010, I could simply chalk such a hiccup up to ignorance. Unfortunately, this continues to be an issue at international queer sporting events.

The Federation of Gay Games has postponed the next iteration of the games planned for Hong Kong from 2022 to 2023. It cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the delay, but the exacerbating reason is that gay life is becoming increasingly difficult in Hong Kong under a tightening Chinese grip. The new national security law and crackdown on social activism have led many human rights lawyers to flee the city. Pro-Beijing legislators have launched homophobic attacks against the Gay Games.

These problems are worse in China, which has turned increasingly homophobic.  President Xi Jinping initially allowed some breathing room for LGBT activists even while he crushed other civil movements. But as Xi consolidates power and the government becomes more authoritarian, China has now closed social media accounts of university LGBT societies and groups pushing for more inclusion. In 2021, China banned “sissy” or “effeminate men” on TV, and official regulators used the derogatory term niang pao (literally “girlie cannon”) in the proclamation. Shanghai Pride was last held in 2020, and its return is questionable. The authorities consider organizers “foreign forces,” and social media censorship includes the term “Pride Month.”

Now, the Federation of Gay Games is trying to simultaneously host the 2023 events in Hong Kong and Guadalajara, Mexico. This organizational circus plays out against the backdrop of Hong Kong and China’s loss of freedom. Unfortunately, acquiescing to China while hoping to advance human rights has repeatedly proved untenable.

InterPride leadership may have their own priorities. InterPride aims to eventually receive consultative status at the United Nations. China has repeatedly blocked Taiwan’s inclusion in international organizations such as the U.N. and the World Health Organization. Make no mistake, any objection to Taiwan, whether directly from China or based on existing U.N. rules, is ultimately a result of China’s making. If InterPride simply allowing the Taiwanese organizers to name an event reflective of their chosen identity is justification for the group’s exclusion, it can’t possibly expect inclusion would suddenly turn the group into effective advocates while acquiescing to the framework set by an authoritarian government.

If the Hong Kong Gay Games hullaballoo isn’t enough of a cautionary tale, InterPride should look to U.N. Women’s failed attempt in 2019 to celebrate same-sex marriage via social media. The U.N. organization listed countries that legally recognize same-sex partnership in a graphic that labeled Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China” but oddly used Taiwan’s national flag, which Beijing disapproves of. The post drew so much ire from different sides that U.N. Women ended up taking it down. In trying to play this no-win game with authoritarian China, human rights organizations end up either harming their own cause or celebrating an empty title while sacrificing other worthwhile movements.

Taiwan should be a model for equal rights activism. A thriving democracy, Taiwan is the only country in Asia that has legalized gay marriage, and it hosts East Asia’s largest Pride Parade. It’s a diverse country where different languages and cultures coexist and are celebrated. Taiwan elected and reelected an unmarried woman as its current president, whose marital status is used by Chinese officials to smear her.

Censorship can’t help but creep further into countries and organizations that condone it. Already, China is demanding European businesses not trade with Lithuania, because the country established a Taiwanese representative office. With Hollywood actor John Cena groveling and professing his love for China, and the NBA afraid of lending any support for Hong Kong, Chinese censorship is here as a cost of doing business. A German journalist was so frustrated by a press event thanking “nations” (Taiwan) for donating personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic, he point-blank asked the politicians why “Taiwan” is such an uncomfortable word to say.

China often mentions that few countries recognize Taiwan, while crushing any hint of its name and threatening to shoot down planes of Western politicians who may want to visit the island. No country in the world had legalized same-sex marriage as recently as 2000, but that did not stop the push for equal rights. Laws and treaties are amended or abolished as our sense of justice evolves. InterPride says that it “supports being seen as your authentic self.” The vast majority of people in Taiwan view themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese, and that identity is deeply tied to a sense of pride (pun intended) in the island’s hard-won democracy, freedom, tolerance, and diversity. These are all values the queer community also embrace. China fears this values-based Taiwanese identity and seeks every opportunity to erase even a hint of that identity, including at queer events.

Ultimately, it is also about credibility. The queer community has a clear choice to make. Do we have the moral standing to criticize right-wing populists who attack us whenever it’s politically expedient, if we do not support a vibrant democracy and the most progressive country in Asia? Let’s be brave. It’s time to prioritize Taiwan as we fight for LGBT rights.

David Yu is a Berlin-based Taiwanese American technologist and amateur athlete.  He is an officer of the Harvard Law School Association of Europe and a cofounder of the Andy Keidel Endowment Fund at Yale that supports undergraduates in computer science.

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