On 27 October, 137,000 people marched in Taiwan’s capital in the 16th annual Taipei Pride demonstration. The number of participants broke the record in Taiwan, making the demo once again the biggest LGBT+ demonstration in Asia.
The main reason for the increase in participants is the LGBT+ referenda to be held on 24 November, which is also the day of local and regional elections across the island. There is one pro-LGBT+ referendum with two different proposals (to legalise same sex marriage and introduce LGBT+ sex education) initiated by pro-LGBT+ organizations, and one anti-LGBT+ referendum initiated by right-wing religious homophobic groups. The aim of the anti-LGBT+ referendum is to reverse the 2017 decision by Taiwan’s top court which approved same sex marriage, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to do so – this was a historic achievement won by the pressure from the collective actions of the LGBT+ movement.
The organizers of Taipei Pride raised the slogan of “two good and three bad”, referring to the number on the voting form, calling on people to vote for the pro-LGBT+ proposals and against the anti- LGBT+ proposals
Need for mass struggle
Despite the decision of the Constitutional Court, in May last year, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of president Tsai Ing-wen has procrastinated over enacting the same sex marriage law, allowing Christian and other right wing homophobic forces to organise a counter campaign which proposes a fake same sex marriage system under separate laws, without changing the current law that only allows marriage between men and women. The homophobic religious groups are using their referendum campaign to put pressure on the government to overthrow this important achievement of the struggle.
The fact that the DPP government allows the holding of a referendum that violates the constitution shows that the laws of the capitalist system cannot be relied upon to protect or deliver justice to the oppressed. Fomenting splits and divisions is one way the system defends the social interests of the rich and those in power, which also explains why capitalist interests are funding the anti-LGBT+ religious groups.
The vast majority of those joining the Pride demonstration are unorganized. While the workers’ movement was not heavily represented, there were contingents from the Taiwan Media Workers’ Union, and the Taoyuan Confederation of Trade Union representative and election candidate, Zhu Xue-mei, was among the marchers. There were a lot of NGO groups and student organizations.
International Socialist Forward (CWI Taiwan) had a colourful, loud contingent in the demonstration. Besides calling on people to vote in the two referenda, in our material, banner slogans and speeches on loudspeakers, we stressed the importance of mass struggle. We stressed the need for a determined political campaign and mobilization against the right wing religious homophobic forces and that the LGBT+ movement cannot expect these forces will disappear just by ignoring them. We pointed out that the LGBT+ movement must be linked to challenging the whole capitalist establishment because this is the foundation of patriarchal oppression in today’s society.
Prospects for the two referenda
It currently looks unlikely that either the pro-LGBT+ or anti-LGBT+ proposals will succeed in getting 25 percent of all eligible voters (around 4.9 million votes) voting yes, which is required for it to pass.
This means both sides are not likely to get a clear victory. The struggle is likely to continue after November’s referenda. Of course this is still a very important battle and ISF-CWI has been fully engaged in the referendum campaign, calling on people to vote on both sides accordingly. Even in the event that the pro-LGBT+ referendum gets enough yes votes, further mass struggle will be needed to achieve real change from the same sex marriage law. Alternatively, even if the anti-LGBT referendum gets sufficient yes votes to pass, the government cannot ignore the mass pressure and just implement the right’s fake same sex marriage system.
Ordinary people – especially youth – are radicalised by the referendum movement. Tsai has completely betrayed her election promises of supporting LGBT+ rights, and has also been strongly attacking labour rights and standing on the side of the big corporations.
Young people especially want to use this referendum movement to express their anger against the political establishment. According to a recent opinion poll by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, over 75 percent of 20-24 year-olds will definitely or possibly vote in the referendum, while the figures for 25-34 year-olds is just 52.6 percent.
Radicalisation vs. reaction
In this poll it is reasonably expected that the referenda will increase the turnout for the nationwide local elections on the same day. This means those elections will be more politicised and polarised than previously. There are a lot of homophobic politicians in both the green (pro-DPP) and blue (Kuomintang-led opposition) camp, and some politicians with a vague position on this question will be forced to state their position.
The LGBT+ movement needs to exploit this opportunity to expose those politicians who oppose equal rights and punish them by calling on people to vote them down in the elections.
The right wing homophobic forces are spending huge amounts of money mobilising through the church, local branches of political parties and the bureaucratic machinery of ‘military, public servants and teachers’ all around Taiwan to spread homophobic lies, in order to get the votes of conservative mostly older layers in society. But they can only use this bureaucratic machinery to impose their ideas from above, unable to initiate an active movement from below.
The referendum voting system in Taiwan is very unfavourable to young people and workers. It does not allow voters to vote outside of their hometown. This lowers the voting rate of young people, students and working class people who have left their own cities. The homophobic referendum proposals can probably get substantial votes and thus boost the confidence and strengthen the organisation of right wing homophobic groups. It is an open question if these forces can coalesce into a new far right or ‘Trumpist’ political movement, which although unlikely in the short-term could pose a real threat at a later stage. The pro-LGBT+ movement needs to prepare for continuous struggle after the referenda.
Taking account of the militant mood of young people especially, International Socialist Forward in the summer set up the LGBT+ radical platform “Let’s fight! LGBT” to allow LGBT+ activists to organize from below democratically.
We organized three protests over the past two months to call on people to kick out homophobic politicians. In contrast to the official LGBT+ movement, we stand for politicising the LGBT+ rights movement with a class struggle approach and orientation. We have organised counter protests against the homophobic forces in the anti-LGBT+ campaign and call for blocking homophobic politicians from being elected.
At the same time we link the current LGBT+ rights movement to the livelihood issues facing grassroots LGBT+ people and the whole working class. To realise real equality for same sex marriage, only changing the current law is not enough. We need to fight against the big attacks on workers’ conditions and living standards and to expand inadequate public services. So, the LGBT+ movement needs to be linked to the working class movement to unite all workers regardless of gender and sexual orientation, to break the capitalist system which oppresses LGBT+ and working class people.