Experiencing the LGBTQI delights of Taiwan’s colourful capital

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage and within the first month, over 1,000 same-sex couples acted upon their newly delivered marriage rights. This alone confirmed that Taipei Pride 2019 was set to be the biggest and best yet, with the whole city coming together to celebrate a momentous occasion in LGBTQI history.

Ten of thousands took to the streets of Taipei Pride in October last year, and I was lucky enough to be among the eager party-goers. Having never even been to the continent before, I had a lot to learn. From eating with chopsticks, to precise tea-drinking procedures, there was a lot for me to take in on my short trip, and I was more than up for the challenge!  

All I knew was that the queer scene in Taipei has slowly started to grow, creeping onto international radars in recent years for its wild nightlife, creative design, delicious food and welcoming locals. I couldn’t wait to experience it all for myself and get to grips with the gay culture in a city that is changing so rapidly.  

Being that Taipei is one of the most liberal and gay-friendly cities in Taiwan, it was no surprise that they took the lead in enforcing same-sex marriage laws first. However, this didn’t come without a fight, and Taiwan still has a long way to go until the LGBTQI community feels safe and equal. It was a huge year for the city, but the feeling of uncertainty hadn’t left in time for Pride. 

Taiwan’s queer history 

  • Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education has been banned nationwide since 2004.
  • Taiwan’s first Pride parade was held back in 2003. It’s still primarily a social movement, with very little advertisement. It often gains complaints that corporations give too little support to the parade. 
  • On 24 May 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the marriage law was unconstitutional and that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, setting a deadline for the introduction of same-sex marriage for May 2019. 
  • Six months before the deadline, 72% of voters said no to marriage equality in a non-binding referendum. 
  • On 17 May 2019, lawmakers voted for a government-backed bill which defined same-sex unions as marriage. 
  • Despite Taiwan’s historic move, LGBTQI people are still unable to adopt children unless it is the biological child of their partner. They are also unable to marry foreigners from countries where same-sex marriages aren’t recognised. 

An Asian adventure 

After a quick(!) 13 hour flight where the queer scenes were removed from Booksmart (I’m pointing at you, China Airlines) I was in Taipei, ready to take in all the queer offerings the city had in store for me. 

Driving through Taipei at night, I got a real taste for the busy nightlife and vibrant culture of the city, soaked in a never-ending sea of 7/11’s. 

Sadly, the real exploration would need to wait as my first hotel, Hotel Royal Beitou, was located in the mountain springs right by Yangmingshan National Park. Arriving here made me instantly forget I was in a sprawling city just moments ago. I was in a state of pure relaxation instead. 

The biggest treat here is that the hotel has geothermal heated water from the local springs coming through every tap! There’s a communal geothermal pool, but if you’re looking for a bit more privacy, I am not exaggerating when I say that the bath in the room was the size of a pool. I practically had to dive to the bottom to pull the plug out! 

I don’t know whether it was the insane time difference, or the excitement I had bubbling for the day ahead, but I was swimming in my own private pool by 5am, getting a head start on the day with stunning views of the mountains in the distance. 

Our first day gearing up for Pride included some real queer delights. Visiting the hot spring baths known for their queer cruising potential, National Palace Museum and the historic Gin Gin book store, I really started to feel the symbolism and meaning oozing from every nook and cranny of the city. Everything had its own story behind it and how it has made its mark on Taipei’s culture. 

National Palace Museum

Taipei Pride

The following day, the city was set to hit peak queer capacity for Taipei Pride. Each year, the pride celebration has a message behind it and this time it was “together stronger”, urging people to be a good neighbour and to promote greater tolerance. 

Crowds filled the streets of Taipei as far as I could see to show their support and love for the LGBTQI community. I saw dogs in rainbow outfits, men wearing nothing, women openly kissing on packed streets. Sounds like your average Pride, right? But the feeling in the air was different. I could sense that as positive and uplifting as everything seemed on the surface, the pride people felt didn’t translate all year round. The underlying tension surrounding LGBTQI rights in Taipei came through when speaking to local people about their experiences. Many told me of the hardships they face in coming out to their families, transgender rights are neglected and the wider community still do not feel entirely equal. 

Pride really came to life at night, showcasing the thriving queer scene in Taipei with everything from speakeasy bars, bear bars, Twink bars (if you’re into that sort of thing) and your standard queer clubs. 

Taipei has one lesbian bar called Taboo. I didn’t get a chance to visit, but I’m told by the local lesbians that it’s great for cheap drinks, great music and flirty gals. 

That evening, we headed for the designated gay district of Taipei, Ximending. Home to the Red House and Cafe Dalida, this is where the queer community join together most nights of the week, not just for Pride. There are some amazing spots nestled into the small area that you can’t miss if you’re a queer traveller in Taipei. 

How proud is Taiwan?

As a queer traveller, I felt completely at ease in Taipei. All the locals I chatted to had diverse and liberal views, making me completely comfortable to talk about my own sexuality. You can truly make friends anywhere and the people I met along the way made me feel so honoured to have been part of such a huge and significant celebration. But I had to remember that just like at home, I was in my own queer bubble. 

Even though same-sex marriage is now legal in Taiwan, society remains divided on LGBTQI issues and there’s still so much to do. Most local people voted against same-sex marriage and there are issues with adoption and international marriage. The younger generation are fighting against ancient traditions that not even the law can completely diminish. Taipei is a city steeped in culture and tradition, so it’s amazing that it retains such a liberal attitude for the most part. 

I was also disappointed by Taipei’s lack of queer female representation. There’s a distinct lack of women in Taipei’s LGBTQI life as it’s very much centred around the male queer community, which sadly is the usual case. But I definitely wouldn’t let that stop you from visiting as a queer woman. The LGBTQI community is huge and extremely welcoming of everyone. After all, Taiwan has showed the rest of Asia that love really does win. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering. After a week of trying my best, I still can’t use chopsticks. 

A taste for touristy Taipei: The to-do list 

Taipei 101 – A magnet for tourists and stunning panoramic views of the city, it’s the tallest building in Taiwan and definitely an essential part of any trip to Taipei. 

Songshan Culture Park Filled with restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries and intriguing industrial design it’s the perfect place to feel culturally enriched. 

Dihua Old Street – Taipei’s answer to Portobello Road market, perfect for a Sunday stroll. It’s traditional and filled with an eclectic mix of tea-shops, fabric shops and food stalls. It’s easy to navigate the stalls full of scrumptious sights and scents. 

Xingyuan Tea Farm This family run tea farm just an hour outside of Taipei is a great spot for postcard worthy photo ops in traditional Taiwanese tea picking costumes and you even get to take home your own tea! 

Raohe Street Night Market – The night markets are the only place you need if you want the most authentic Taiwanese food. This is one of the oldest and like many places in Taipei, the longer the line, the better the food. 

Sophie’s trip was kindly provided by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and China Airlines. 

Taiwan
For more information about Taiwan, please contact the Taiwan Tourism Bureau at taiwan.net.tw or go to their Facebook page at Taiwan Tourism UK.

Travel

China Airlines (china-airlines.com; 0207 644 6110) flies direct from London Gatwick direct to Taipei, with return fares from £500 per person.

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!

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