Prominent LGBT rights leader protests police harassment, warns of challenges ahead

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Wed, Oct 28, 2015
By Chi-ting Serena Chuang

Notable LGBT rights activists William Shen (喀飛), who was named as “Community Leader of The Year” in this year’s Asia LGBT Milestone Awards, blasted the frequent raids by the Taipei City Police to gay saunas as “out of proportion” and a “deja vu” of abuse of power by the law enforcement which was rampant before late ‘90s, in his speech at the opening of the 6th ILGA-Asia Regional Conference on Wednesday to 300 participants from 40 countries.

Shen, a long-time LGBT rights advocate, founder and board member of the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association (同志諮詢熱線), the local organizer of the conference, urged vigilance of participants who have been at the forefront of the LGBT rights movement in their respective countries to the new challenges arising from the rapidly changing environment, and called for effective strategy formulation of LGBTI movement by taking into account the larger contexts of the society.

Police raids ‘out of malevolence’

At the beginning of his speech which emphasized that the achievements of Taiwan’s LGBT struggle echoes the nation’s long hard battle for democratization, Shen lambasted the Taipei Police for its “persistent and large-scale” raids on the ANIKi World of Wonders, a popular gay sauna and gym since last summer in the capital city of Taiwan.

Describing the raids as “out of malevolence and out of proportion”, Shen blasted the Taipei City Police’ alleged misconduct in front of his international audience. Shen said the police had targeted the same sauna with over 50 raids in a year.

“The recent incidents gave us a déjà vu of rampant police abuse of power and human rights violation on the basis of discrimination before late‘90s,” said Shen. Repeated police harassment of such finally reduced significantly with human rights training demanded by the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association following Taiwan’s democratization, Shen elaborated.

A Look back at history: context matters

To respond to a rapidly changing environment with effective strategies for various challenges facing the ongoing LGBTI movement, Shen suggested that “looking back at history with a cool head will offer insights into the road ahead”.

It is critical to analyze the contexts of culture and social values where challenges arise when formulating strategies, he stressed.

Shen gave a brief review of Taiwan’s LGBTI movement as an example that the development of LGBTI movement always goes along with the changes of the larger political and social context.

The transnational anti-LGBT faith groups waging their war against same-sex marriage and gender-inclusive sexual education, for example, have based their argument that this would “contaminate’ the thinking and lifestyle of the underage people”, Shen explained. As these groups featured with religious fundamentalism are currently the biggest challenge to Taiwan’s LGBTI movement, Shen suggested local activists to target the “conservative social value that underage individuals can’t think make their own judgment, as well as the culture with fear and stigma for anything related to sex” for their ongoing advocacy efforts.

As to LGBTI activists beyond Taiwan, Shen identified the reemergence of right-wing extremism and critical changes of international relationships, prioritization of economy over rights in most societies, interpersonal contacts and communication reshaped by mobile technologies and social media as major challenges to LGBTI people’s pursuit of “independent of minds and bodies” . “Reflecting on the larger contexts for counterstrategies helps,” he reiterated.

Despite citing Taiwan’s fight for marriage equality as an instance, Shen reminded that the movement should not end at the fight for marriage rights.

“We should strive for diverse options for each LGBTI individual”, Shen emphasized, fearing that by putting only this issue at the center of the spotlight would, many other preferences of lifestyles and intimacies could become marginalized and oppressed.

The LGBTI community should not perpetuate the oppression of LGBTI individuals by discriminating those who do not opt for marriage or monogamous, long-term relationships, Shen said.

Towards the end of his speech, Shen also advised the participants to learn another lesson from historyalthough political participation is indispensable for pushing for more space in the society, those who take this path should always reflect upon if “the initial driving force for reform has been left behind”.

Brief sharing of LGBTI movement history in Taiwan

As Taiwan has been praised by many as having advanced progressively in the protection and promotion of LGBTI rights, Shen gave a brief overview of Taiwan’s LGBTI movement history to indicate how the LGBTI movement rides the tide of a nation’s political and social reforms.

Taiwan’s LGBTI rights movement began with the efforts of veteran activist Chi Chia-wei (祁家威), who came out in 1986 as a gay in front of a crowd of TV cameramen and reporters, while the establishment of a lesbian group “Between Us” in 1990 marked the starting point of Taiwan’s institutionalized LGBTI movement, recalled Shen.

Back then, the LGBTI community suffered labeling and stigma prevalent in biased media coverage, forcing LGBTI people to remain closeted until the movement began to make its influence.

The launch of Taiwan’s LGBTI movement coincided with the nation’s lift of martial law in 1987 ensued by the progressive fight for freedom of assembly, speech and the press of social activists who themselves were also from the community. Taiwan underwent the world’s longest martial law for over 38 years under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

Vibrant social movements which began in the 90s led to the boom of LGBT literature as well as gender and sexuality discourse. “The flourishing publications not only comforted many individuals who have remained closeted, but allowed better understanding of LGBTI people and thus helped alleviated bias,” said Shen.

The evolution of the internet also made LGBTIQ’s communication, networking and mobilization possible and convenient, paving way to Taiwan’s rich, diverse and inclusive LGBTI movement afterwards, Shen added.