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Asia and the LGBTQ+ Community

Writer: Veronica Yung

Editor: Tonwaan Apiratikiat

Graphic Designer: Maulina Gheananta

There is no doubt that there is a stigma surrounding the LGBTQ+ community in many Asian countries and communities, which leads to the disregard and rejection of people’s sexualities, in particular children and teenagers. Being LGBTQ+ can add stress to children, as many Asian cultures value putting the collective, i.e. the family, before the individual which means they feel the pressure from a heteronormative society. Further stress is added to LGBTQ+ Asians in majority white countries, as they face prejudice from both their race and sexuality.

Many Asian countries only stopped classifying homosexuality as a a mental or psychiatric disorder in the last two decades, although it is still ilegal in a many Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE, Yemen, Pakistan, Malaysia, Myanmar, etc. This stigma is also seen in Wu Hao’s 2019 Netflix documentary, ‘All in My Family,’ which follows Wu, his partner Eric and his family as Wu and Eric have children via surrogacy. In the documentary, Wu’s mother says that she ‘adamantly [objects] to people like you having kids’ because his family is not ‘normal,’ while his father says that they should ‘try [their] best to hide this from friends and relatives.’

Asian countries are generally seen as more conservative and less open to different sexualities. However, this may, unexpectedly, be a result of colonialism, or more specifically, British colonialism. An example would be India; pre-colonisation, same-sex relationships were not frowned upon – there was even a transgender community called the Hijra. In addition to that, ‘Kama Sutra,’ a text on sexuality by Vātsyāyana, supports transgender and non-binary people, and has a whole chapter on homosexual sex positions. After being colonised by the British in 1858, the section 337 law was introduced, which criminalised sexual acts ‘against the law of nature.’ Similar laws and impacts are seen in various African countries and on the Indigenous North Americans. It is important to acknowledge the roots of the stigma and address the involvement of European colonialism in these ideologies, instead of just labelling these countries as ‘backwards’ or ‘conservative’.

However, many significant changes have been made in Asian countries, with homosexuality becoming legalised in the majority of East, Southeast and South Asian countries with a few countries recognising cohabitation, civil unions and same-sex marriages from foreign countries. An example would be Hong Kong, which provides government and tax benefits to same-sex marriages registered overseas.

Taiwan was the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage on 24 May, 2019, and is currently the only Asian country to do so. This was a result of the high court in Taiwan ruling in favour of same sex marriage in 2017. In a 2016 Facebook video, President Tsai Ing-Wen openly showed her support of gay marraige, saying that ‘in the face of love, everyone is equal.’ When same-sex marriage was first legalised, multinational marriages were only available between citizens of countries where same-sex marriage was already legal. On 22 January, 2021, after a legal battle between a Taiwan-Macau couple and the government, the Judicial Yuan began to amend the law, which was put in place May 2021. Multinational same-sex marriages do not extend to mainland China due to relations between the countries. Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, holds the biggest pride parades in Asia, which are held yearly in late October/early November since 2003. In recent years, over 100,000 people have attended each parade. Taipei’s 2020 pride was one of the few in-person pride events due to low COVID numbers. The date was moved up to June in order to commemorate the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Taipei’s tourism website also includes a section called ‘Travel by Rainbow,’ which shows important sites in Taiwanese LGBTQ+ history.

Carl Court / Getty Images

Other significant pride parades include Metro Manila and Hong Kong’s pride. In 2019, the Metro Manila pride, which had over 77,000 attendees, included an art festival, speeches by different LGBTQ+ speakers, and 20 performers during their parade. Metro Manila pride began in 1994 as a march to promote the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. The first Hong Kong pride occurred in October 2004 and received positive press coverage, and from 2008 onwards, the attendee numbers have been consistently in the thousands. Hong Kong also has an LGBTQ+ film festival, which shows indie movies that are not shown in big cinemas.

Metro Manila Pride - AP/Bullit Marquez

Thailand has a large transgender community, with trans women being a huge part of the entertainment industry, although they are underpaid. Thailand also hosts the Miss International Queen pageant, the largest beauty pageant for transgender women, which began in 2004.

Finalists at the Miss International Queen pageant 2020 - AFP Photo

It is important to educate the older generations in Asian countries and communities on the LGBTQ+ community and work towards reducing the stigma in these circles. Significant steps have been made towards achieving equality and changing the heteronormative society instilled by European colonialism, especially in Taiwan with the legalisation of same-sex marriage, but there is so much more that needs to be done to recognise LGBTQ+ people in Asia.




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