By: Jerome F. Keating

Taiwan, which has become Asia’s most liberal territory for Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender rights, is readying for its second Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF) beginning on Oct. 23.

The festival, a month-long event which is spread across Taiwan’s three biggest cities, has been so successful at home that its organizers are reaching out to other Asian nations to promote greater collaboration in gaining LGBT rights in a region that remains largely plagued by homophobia, especially among families who are often horrified to discover they have raised a child with different sexual orientation. 

Taiwan’s LGBT Parade, Taiwan Pride, which was first held in 2003, has become the largest in Asia. In 2013 its numbers had already topped 67,000. For this year’s parade, whose date falls right in the middle of the film festival, the numbers are expected to reach 80,000.

Jay Lin, Chairman and Co-Director of the festival put the late communication theorist Marshall McLuhan’s dictum – the medium is the message – to the test by advocating that there is no better medium than film and movies to change society’s attitudes.

“Film is a soft medium. In a non-confrontational way, it involves stories that all can relate to,” Lin said. “People are more amenable to listen to and watch such stories.” 

Culture, he continued,  “takes time to change. For us the festival’s primary goal is to help change society and people’s attitudes; when people’s attitudes change, the regulations follow. If it is the other way around and laws change too quickly, backlash is often involved.”

“Films deal with universal themes of family dynamics, friendship, coming of age etc.,” Tiffany Tsai, a radio show host and involved actress agreed. “They can start the conversation for people to understand and respect each other’s challenges despite their different backgrounds or orientation.”

The festival will run from Oct. 23 through Nov. 1 in Taipei, in Taichung from Nov. 2 to Nov. 11, and in Kaohsiung from Nov. 13 through Nov. 22. Afterwards select films will play throughout some 25 smaller towns to deliver the message throughout the country. It boasts a wide range of films that treat all phases of the human condition and experience from the LGBT perspective. As the theme (#WeAreEverywhere) points out, the festival’s aim is to help people realize that LGBT people can be found in all walks of life and in all cultures.

Legally in Taiwan, discrimination based on sexual orientation was banned in education in 2003 and in the workplace there in 2007. Gays can now also legally adopt children although a bill to legalize same sex-marriages put forth by the Executive Yuan remains stalled in the legislature.

“Since the end of the Martial Law Era in 1987, Taiwan has made huge strides forward to become one of the leading free societies within Asia, said  John Eastwood, a partner at Eiger Law. “From 15 years ago when police raids were used to harass the LGBT community to one of tolerance, they swiftly moved to a society in which government sponsorship of Gay Pride events has become the norm.”