MOBILIZING CRISIS, MATERIAL INEQUALITY, AND IDEOLOGICAL SPLITS: Observations from the November 24th LGBTQ Referenda in Taiwan

Written with Brian Hioe.

IN MAY 2017, LGBTQ groups in Taiwan were celebrating the historic ruling of the Council of Grand Justices, Taiwan’s highest court, in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. On November 24, five national referendum results show overwhelming opposition against the legalization of same-sex marriage and gender equality education in grade school that would include LGBTQ issues. Heated conversations are happening all over different media platforms on the results, by analyzing the vote. This event has made international media coverage.

While there are many questions that remain to be answered through a more detailed analysis of the voting data, we are here writing as activists to reflect on the movement, offering some observations on how we may want to move forward from here on issues as the international representations of the Taiwanese LGBTQ movement, the leverage of the May 2017 court ruling, referenda versus minority rights, media exposure, and the problem with electoral politics particular to the pan-Green and pan-Blue dynamics in Taiwan.

1. The Problem with the Western Discourse of the “First in Asia”

DESPITE  WESTERN media outlets’ frequent claims that Taiwan will be the “first in Asia” to legalize same-sex marriage, the referendum results show massive resistance backed up by the Christian right’s abundant financial funds and purposely inaccurate information about LGBTQ communities and gender equity education.

It is probable that this gay-friendly image of Taiwan in Western media has provoked a sense of crisis in the Christian right internationally. This led to reportedly millions of USD coming into Taiwan from American Christian right groups and domestic mobilizations. As it has been widely reported, one of the founders of HTC, Cher Wang, backed the anti-LGBTQ campaigns in Taiwan with close to 30 million USD. Foundations owned by Wang are intimately tied to the anti-LGBTQ Evangelical organization, The International House of Prayers (IHOP), from the US.

In the future, the LGBTQ movement needs to develop strategies to cope with what may be a permanent disadvantage of being outgunned in terms of financial resources. It is not impossible that abundant financial resources will continue to come into the Taiwanese anti-gay movement from both within Taiwan and internationally.

2. Whither the Constitutional Court Ruling?

THERE IS STILL the court ruling from May 2017 that favors same-sex marriage for activists to use as legal leverage. However, on November 29, the Executive Yuan and Legislative Yuan both announced that they will be continuing by drafting civil partnership laws without changing the marriage-related parts of the Civil Code. A portion of the Christian right, in the meantime, is seeking to block the civil partnership entirely after the referendum vote, which could lead to further legal contestation in the Council of Grand Justices again—except that in the changed environment after the referenda, this may influence how the Council of Grand Justices rules in the future.

It is possible that civil partnership laws will lack some rights that heterosexual married couples currently enjoy. This could likely happen with parenting rights. As shown in the referendum question against LGBTQ-friendly gender equality education, with the view taken by Christian groups that this contributes to the spread of homosexuality, Christian groups have a fear of homosexuality spreading to children, and they may fear that gay couples raising children could spread homosexuality to their children. While they have not yet voiced such a demand, they could be not articulating this demand openly at present as a strategic end, in order to look reasonable and as though they actually have the best interests of the LGBTQ community in mind.

Either way, votes against LGBTQ education have placed queer youth in an even more vulnerable position, given the existing high rates of bullying and suicide. This is already too little, too late.

3. Referendum: An Urgent Yet Reactive Response to a Rising Anti-LGBTQ Crisis

THE MARRIAGE equality and LGBTQ education referenda were a reactive response to the anti-LGBTQ referenda initiated by the Christian right coalition. Debates of whether a minority’s right should be addressed by referenda took place among LGBTQ activists in Taiwan, but the push for referenda with wording more favorable to gay marriage and LGBTQ-friendly education later were executed within a short time frame, as well as with very limited funding compared to the Christian right coalition. Prior to the proposal of the anti-LGBTQ referenda, the LGBTQ coalition consistently utilized discourses of minority rights to seek state protection, knowing that same-sex marriage may not be able to win popular votes nationwide.

Notably, Christian right groups have primarily sought to leverage on social fears regarding the possible consequences of gay marriage. This has included claims, such as that Taiwan will become an “island of AIDS” if gay marriage is passed and that the national health system will be bankrupted because of gay people from across the world flocking to Taiwan to take advantage of the national healthcare system. However, Christian groups have notably also learned to articulate their views in ways which sound reasonable and rational to everyday members of society. There has been a visible learning curve since 2013, when Christian groups first began to vocally oppose gay marriage as a political formation. The LGBTQ movement may also need to rapidly develop new strategies—Christian groups may have been quicker to adapt than the LGBTQ movement to date.

Additionally, procedural justice cannot trump material inequality. While it a positive that Taiwan’s democratic system allows civil society to initiate referendum votes on any topic, by not considering the social and economic marginalization of minority groups, the LGBTQ communities are taking a big hit through lack of caution and an ambiguous stance on the issues of the state.

4. Lack of Exposure on Traditional Media Platforms

GIVEN THE results of the referendum, in which over 7 million voted against gay marriage, but only ten million participated in the referendum voting—around 43% of the total population—this either means that the majority of Taiwanese does not support gay marriage or that enough of the public was not mobilized about the issue to vote for gay marriage.

Much discussion now has turned towards the question of how to break out of the “echo chambers” of one’s peers. Seemingly different realities exist on different forms of social media, such as Facebook, mostly used by young people, versus Line, used by the older generation. Different information about the referendum and about the effects of gay marriage circulated on these two platforms. This is also true more broadly of differences between how Internet-based platforms, television, and newspaper covered the issue. Newspapers and television, including the Liberty Timesand Formosa Television, are thought to have not covered gay marriage-related issues because of Christian anti-gay groups advertising in these publications, despite their usual progressive leaning on issues of Taiwanese sovereignty and opposition to nuclear energy.

5. Strategic Alliances in Electoral Politics

THE LANDSLIDE victory of the right-leaning, pro-unification, mostly anti-gay, and pro-nuclear KMT was contributed to by a combination of factors, including Beijing’s meddling in the local elections and continuous threats to Taiwanese civil society, the ongoing economic recession under Tsai’s DPP leadership and its inability to resolve it, and pension reform that the Tsai administration pushed for which affected veterans, government officials, and public teachers who had previously benefited tremendously under KMT’s rule.

The issues of LGBTQ rights in Taiwan cannot be completely separated from the country’s pan-Blue and pan-Green party dynamics. This also becomes a major contradiction within the LGBTQ movement itself—should activists side with a particular party or try to move beyond binary party politics? Sadly, the two major parties in Taiwan tend to see LGBTQ issues as a drawback to their securing of the popular votes and would be willing to sacrifice such issues when they become too inconvenient.

However, by not siding with a particular party, LGBTQ groups also face barriers of insufficient funding and media exposure or being accused by its pan-Green supporters as not taking a firm stance against the strongly anti-gay KMT. Can the LGBTQ movement—which, at present in Taiwan, ultimately takes the form of identity politics—transcend this contradiction and form new alliances? As we know from the LGBTQ movement in the US, it has mostly sided with the Democratic Party since the late 1980s, yet has also experienced major betrayals, particularly under Bill Clinton’s administration. How does the movement form a strategic alliance with some parties while retaining a critical distance from them? These may be the hardest question we all have to answer in this continuous struggle in the current political conditions in Taiwan.

It’s important to note that the nature of LGBTQ movement itself is ideologically heterogeneous, as a coalition based on a sexual minority. Yet as with any identity-based mobilization, the temporal coalition that is formed under is a reactive response to a crisis, and it is likely to be split on different ideological issues at a certain point, such as being pro-business vs. pro-worker or pro-unification vs. pro-independence. Rather than seeing this development as a “crisis” or “division” of the LGBTQ movement, we may as well understand it as an advancement of the current struggle and take it as a political opportunity to build new alliances and strategies in response to the next phase of the struggle.

Original published on New Bloom.


重申「同性戀國家主義」與「粉紅清洗」:超越冷戰結構的帝國慾望?

「Homonationalism」(同性戀國家主義)應該是近十年內酷兒學術最被快速沿用與再生產的一個概念,描述同志人權如何被收編於「衡量國家主權優良等級」的一種國際機制,在 2007 年 Jasbir Puar 出版《Terrorist Assemblages》一書之後引起廣泛的辯論與修正。由「同性戀國家主義」延伸而出,形容以色列如何藉由「國家同志人權」的友善形象,來掩飾國家對於巴勒斯坦殖民暴力的「粉紅清洗」(pinkwashing)策略,近幾年也激起了一連串的北美酷兒「反粉紅清洗」的 BDS(Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions)運動,抵制以色列藉由文化、經濟、外交等等手段的同志友善形象建立。這次中央性/別研究室所邀請至台灣演講的紐約史坦頓島學院特聘教授莎拉·舒蔓(Sarah Schulman),正是酷兒反粉紅洗清 BDS 運動的主要支持者之一。舒蔓的演說,加上美國同志人權大使蘭迪·貝瑞(Randy Berry)的訪台行程,也引起台灣酷兒學界與運動圈的討論,問題的核心在於,如同以色列,台灣是否也展露了渴望藉由「同性戀國家主義」的同志友善與人權表述來「攀附(美)帝國的慾望」?或者,更直接地說,Is Taiwan already homonational?

討論台灣的性別政治之前,我認為我們必須先回到 Puar 對「同性戀國家主義」的定義,以及她對其概念延伸出的一系列「反粉紅清洗」北美酷兒運動與知識生產的批判。在 2012 年的這篇文章《Pinkwatching and Pinkwashing: Intepretations and Its Discontents》中,Puar 強調這些「反粉紅清洗」的酷兒串連(泛稱為“pinkwatching”「粉紅看守」),不但無法瓦解「美國─以色列同志帝國」的共構,反而更加深「同性戀國家主義」的邏輯。主要原因為以下四點:

1. 粉紅看守(pinkwatching)的酷兒運動與知識生產必須建構出「原生的」(native)、「真實的」(authentic)穆斯林巴勒斯坦酷兒,來支持其批判「優等歐洲裔猶太同志被收編於以色列國家機制」的運動道德正當性。換句話說,粉紅看守藉著「巴勒斯坦酷兒民族苦難」之名,再次加強了同性戀國家主義邏輯「中東=恐同」的伊斯蘭仇恨(Islamophobia)與阿拉伯裔仇恨(Arabophobia)。另外,這看似激進的酷兒論述與跨國串連,塑照出「西方激進同志必須挺巴勒斯坦同志」,這樣以身分政治為主的國際反恐同論述,仍是無法脫離同性戀國家主義的知識管制範疇,不過是重申了西方同志身份與反恐同人權論述為「國際通用」的基礎假設。

2. 粉紅清洗(pinkwashing)以同志人權粉飾以色列對巴勒斯坦殖民的手法,就如同粉紅看守(pinkwatching)選擇性忽略美國當地對各個族裔同時進行的殖民主義與種族主義,將美國的殖民暴力轉移至以色列對巴勒斯坦的殖民,並將美國運動者與學界的白種罪惡感寄託於「巴勒斯坦酷兒的解放」之上。

3. 粉紅清洗(pinkwashing)使得「同志友善」成為國家文明化的一種國際思想鏈結,為依靠著伊斯蘭仇恨、阿拉伯裔仇恨、與東方主義的全球化輸送方能成效,而非單一依靠「美國─以色列同志帝國共構」的特殊關係。如此單面向複製「美國─以色列」的粉紅看守(pinkwatching)酷兒論述,反而掉入「以色列得以與美國交換利益」的國家特殊性,使得美國同時對伊朗以及伊拉克的粉紅清洗策略被選擇性地忽略。

4. 以酷兒身份為基礎的粉紅看守(pinkwatching)論述與運動,刻意不去談論巴勒斯坦解放運動中的多項策略與派系爭議:例如武裝對抗以色列的爭議性、巴勒斯坦難民的去留或「兩國方案」(two-state solution),這種看似「和平」的訴求,但為實質正常化以色列殖民機制的策略。粉紅看守的運動邏輯,只能著手這般低門檻、廣大群眾能接受的酷兒身份串聯,即使號稱要對抗以色列的同性戀國家主義、種族主義與殖民主義,卻也無法提出解決巴勒斯坦同志處境的實質措施,只能一再強調中東社會的「恐同」不過是西方製造出的「假議題」。

基於以上四點,無論是將以色列同性戀國家主義脫離國際脈絡特殊化的「粉紅清洗」(pinkwashing),或者是將巴勒斯坦酷兒壓迫特殊化的「粉紅看守」(pinkwatching),都將反帝國主義與解殖的全球權力運作簡化、轉換為同一個論述中心與觀眾:那就是「歐美同志」與其西方同志人權經驗。而他們所消費的,都是在此缺乏足夠話語權的「巴勒斯坦酷兒」。

對於 Puar 來說,同性戀國家主義是一個流動於全球的權力機制,因此,刻意地闡述「台灣是否更加的同性戀國家主義」,其實是一個相對無意義的學術爭辯,因為台灣如同各個國家,都一樣地被牽連於全球同性戀國家主義的衡量基準之中,只是各國相對應的策略各有不同。以「反帝國」為名,積極反對西方同志人權論述的國家,也不免藉由西方宗教右派恐同的話語來塑造國家邁入「去殖民化」,卻實為鞏固當地保守政權的正當性,烏干達 2014 年所設立的反同性戀法便為一例。若同性戀國家主義之於台灣是帝國文明勢力的收編,那麼它之於烏干達即是帝國邊陲的暴力統治。

反觀台灣的狀況,同性戀國家主義一詞,經常被粗略地置入冷戰的「美國─台灣同志帝國共構」架構,表明台灣的性別政治是刻意凸顯中國的「同志不友善」,進而強調台灣的現代文明與主權的正當性,也因此將中國隔離在同性戀國家主義的影響範疇之外。此論述不僅簡化了同性戀國家主義的全球性,也小覷了中國應用「粉紅清洗」來粉飾北京當局內種族與階級紛爭的野心。即使在中國的官方國家論述中,同性戀仍被置於法律與道德的疆界之外,中國同志商業圈與美國資本近年來互相聯手,也正積極打造更加「同志友善」的「粉紅經濟」商業發展環境與社會文化。

換言之,同性戀國家主義,並非台灣所特有。強調「台灣─以色列」之於美國的特殊性,反而落入粉紅清洗本身的邏輯,轉移美帝權力運作的複雜跨國性。有鑑於此,若要將同性戀國家主義的批判套用於台灣的性別運動現況,我們必須小心不去複製 Puar 所說的「粉紅看守」邏輯,單向地批判「美國─台灣同志帝國共構」,去強化台灣在東亞同志人權代表的特殊性,掉入舊有的冷戰思維。「粉紅清洗」這個策略更應該使我們進一步檢視殖民主義在地運作的機制與全球的性權力部署,而非再度塑造出遠方的「苦難第三世界酷兒」,就為了承擔在地尚未能解決的主權紛爭與同志困境。

原文刊登於《破土|New Bloom》