Sunday, March 16, 2014

A feast of hatred (and love) — Part II

Another eventful day as supporters and opponents of homosexual marriage meet on the battleground of ideas

The battle for and against the legalization of same-sex unions in Taiwan continued today with a series of activities, including a second large rally organized by the Church-backed Happiness of the Taiwan Happy Family Alliance. Although the violations committed by some members of the Alliance today were less severe than those witnessed during the disastrous 1130 event, a few incidents nevertheless highlighted the intolerance that continues to animate the organizations that oppose homosexual unions.

Displays of love, for equality
The day started on a positive note, with supporters of legislative amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code, which would open the door for same-sex marriage, gathering near the Legislative Yuan for a “Kiss for Marriage Equality” activity. About 300 people turned up, and there was, as expected, a lot of love, especially during the mass kissing session.

Soon afterwards, the group adjourned and joined members of the Lobby Alliance for LGBT Human Rights near National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall for a brief press conference headed by Chen Chia-chun (陳嘉君), chairperson of the Shih Ming-teh Foundation, an outspoken supporter of amendments to 972.

Cute, or bigoted?
As people were gathering, I caught my first glance of the families on their way to the Happiness of the Taiwan Happy Family Alliance rally at the CKS plaza. At first, I thought those were children returning from the “1,600 paper pandas” event currently showing at the plaza; the kids were wearing hats made of cardboard, with pandas in the front. Only when I looked closer did I realize what it really was: There was a dad panda, a mom panda, and two children pandas, with accompanying text containing the usual rhetoric about what constitutes a “true” family and all that. One little girl walked by waving a flag with “Father and mother I love you” written on it. Good for you. I do, too, as we all do.

Extraordinarily, someone had actually succeeded in making me hate the ubiquitous symbols of People’s Republic of China imperialism even more. To be fair to the organizers, who never cease to amaze me with their lack of tact, pandas were nevertheless an improvement over the conical hats that members of the Alliance had worn on 1130, which brought to mind the hateful KKK and turned the participants into an international joke. Nelson the Nazi, who made a splash last year, was also missing in action today.

Before heading for Liberty Square adjacent to the CKS plaza, LGBT supporters distributed cards with a large psychedelic rainbow eye printed at the back; if they were confronted, blocked, and surrounded like they were on 1130, they were to flip the card and flash it at their oppressors — a twist, perhaps, on the Citizen 1985 eye theme.

Holy support at Liberty Square
The group walked without incident to Liberty Square, where they held another press conference. After snapping a few shots, I headed over to the big event at the CKS plaza. What immediately struck me, once again, was how slick the whole thing was, with a large stage — erected, appropriately enough, right at the bottom of the hall honoring another oppressor — giant TV screens, great sound, and huge camera cranes. On stage, speakers, pop artists, politicians (I heard Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin), drummers and other personalities waxed religious about the greatness of traditional families and, conversely, the terrible threat that same-sex unions purportedly pose to society. The atmosphere was jovial, with lots of dancing and singing. Several participants walked around holding large placards with a variety of inscriptions, from “marriage covenant” — a religious concept which argues that marriage involves not just (strictly) a man and a woman, but Christ as well — to “Mother never stop protecting their children.” More worryingly, some signs recommended adopting laws similar to those recently passed in Uganda to deal with homosexuals, i.e., prison sentences, physical violence, etc.

Variety of slogans against
On two occasions, placard-wielding staff blocked my way and asked what I wanted to do in there. Apparently my camera and tags weren’t sufficient to identify me as a journalist. Perhaps I had an aura about me, which some people in that group claim they are able to see. Not an aura of homosexuality, mind you, as I am straight, but perhaps one of disdain for the hatred and intolerance that surrounded me, masking as love and happiness. After minutes explaining that what I wanted to do “in there” was my job as a journalist, they let me through, albeit reluctantly. After that, staff (and some participants) constantly looked at me in a strange way, and I suspect that I was followed for a while. As with 1130, they managed to make me feel unwelcome, something that hasn’t happened to me in my eight years working as a journalist in Taiwan — with the exception of my visit to Yuanli, Miaoli County, where thugs hired by a German wind power company (and with probable ties to organized crime) made it clear they didn’t want prying eyes in the area.

Clashes as Chen, left, leads the LGBT group in
I went back to the LGBT group, which then announced it would attempt to join the fun at the CKS plaza. Immediately, they ran into a row of police officers, who told them they could go no further. After a brief argument with them, Chen prevailed and the colorful expeditionary force broke onto the main ground. They made it about 200 meters before they were encountered by staff and participants from the Alliance rally, who formed a row with their placards. After a bout of pushing and shoving, LGBT supporters sat down and things quieted for a while. One Alliance member, a man in his 60s who minutes earlier had blown me two (inexplicable) kisses, asked me if I “liked this,” pointing to the LGBT group with a smirk. I told him I was a journalist and that what I thought really didn’t matter. The response seemed to meet his approval and he left me alone.

Members of the alliance watch the concert
Despite the melee, I saw none of the encircling and chasing that caused an international sensation on 1130. In fact, a few LGBT supporters were able to break the blockade and walked around freely, flashing their rainbow flags. For the most part, they were ignored, though they were occasionally blocked. The Alliance participants also didn’t wear the caps and facial masks that prevented identification, as they did on 1130. This leads me to conclude that the organizers and Church groups behind them have learned from their mistakes did not want a repeat of the 1130 fiasco, which backfired and severely damaged their image, at home and abroad. However, signs that celebrate the abhorrent regulations adopted in Uganda still betray a tremendous amount of ignorance, if not something more sinister.

Saying goodbye as the event wraps up
Also troubling is the fact that once again, as people clashed and private citizens assumed the privileges of law enforcement officers by preventing others from walking freely in a public space, police looked on and failed to intervene. Police did try to make the group of LGBT supporters leave early, but strong protests prevailed upon them and the participants were allowed to remain until the very end. In fact, they formed a goodbye committee as the thousands of participants in the Alliance rally wrapped up the event and left the premises, seeing them off with songs and slogans amid a flurry of rainbow flags. One young man, as I recall one of the victims of encircling on 1130, propped himself up on a gate and screamed for several long minutes at the Alliance participants as they walked by, rubbing his throat as his voice became hoarse. The young man radiated raw anger.

I won’t revisit many of the points I’ve made in previous articles. However, one thing that needs pointing out once again is the asymmetry that characterizes the social forces involved in this debate. While a majority of Taiwanese either support or don’t care one way or another about homosexual unions, the minority — far wealthier, connected within the government and backed by various Christian organizations — is much more mobilized and vocal, which thus gives the impression that society at large is overwhelmingly against amendments to 972 (organizers today claimed a turnout of 20,000). I also fear that many of the participants in the campaign to “save” the family are unaware of the dark forces that lurk in the background, of the role played by extremists from the Evangelical far right in the U.S. such as International House of Prayer (IHOP) and others. The strange rhetoric adopted by the campaign is what first made me investigate the groups involved, which led me to some very nasty connections abroad and their growing presence here in Taiwan. The arguments that have been used to justify opposition to legalizing same-sex unions highlight a stunning negligence of scientific facts and reason, and an inability to accept the possibility that humanity is not homogenous. Only the closed minds of individuals who follow top-down dictates uncritically (as religion wants them to) could accept — and defend — the claim that homosexuality is learned, or that same-sex unions would lead to bestiality, chaos, and put children at risk.

One last thing, in response to the claim that Christians don’t hate homosexuals, but in fact love them more than anyone else ever could. This is pure hogwash. Intolerance, the refusal to accept someone for who and what he/she, and believing that that person needs to be fixed or healed, is isn’t love — it’s hate, no matter how you couch it. (All photos by the author)

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