Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bigotry and hatred under the Sun

On a sunny Saturday, upset with the Legislative Yuan's passage of the first round of review to revise Civil Code 972 to legalize same sex marriage, religious groups, mostly Christians, mobilized to come to Taipei’s Ketagalan Boulevard to voice their opposition.  The rally participants arrived by busloads.  According to the organizers, the event drew 300,000 participants.  My calculation being on the ground was between 10,000 and 20,000.

I decided to head to the area for an observation, because I learned not only will the anti-same-sex marriage groups would gather in front of the President’s Office, supporters of the amendment and same sex marriage will also stage their demonstrations by holding placards in the peripheral areas near Ketagalan Boulevard and using placards to form the characters for “Equal Rights to Marriage” at the Legislative Yuan.  

I must say, since I’ve been conducting fieldwork on the quality of democracy in Taiwan and observing social movements in the past few years, I’ve never experienced (made to feel so unwelcome) or seen anything like it. 

“No photos here!”

Upon arriving the Ketagalan Boulevard area, I observed rally participants in different groups entering the open area on the boulevard, most of them carry self-made signs or placards from the organizers that said, “I want a Daddy and a Mommy”, “Made in Mommy and Daddy”, “Against Civil Code 972 Amendment”, “Stop Sexual Liberation”, “Safeguard Marriage”, and “Safe Guard Family”.  Some carries signs with insulting and prejudicial slogan like “Same-sex union means promiscuity” or “Against legalization of promiscuity”.

I made it not even half way up the boulevard toward the stage, where members of the Coalition for Happiness of Our Next Generation and the Safeguard Our Family Alliance were practicing a dance, I was physically blocked by two men with earphone pieces in their ears and armband stickers that says “Order Maintenance Squad (糾察隊)”. One of them said to me, “You cannot take photos freely here, and you cannot be here (這裡不能隨便照相,你不能來這裡)”.  This was the first time in Taiwan that I have been stopped told at a demonstration that I cannot photograph or go where I wanted to on a public street. After telling the two men I am an academic researching Taiwan’s civil movements, as the organizers have repeatedly claimed themselves as (and not as a mobilization of Christian groups), the men spoke to someone “higher up” in their small microphone and finally let us through.

I saw a lot of parents with their young children, most of whom weren’t old enough to understand the purpose of their outing, quite a few young adults, chattering with each other, making jokes and playing with their cell phones. 

The song “The Essence of Love”, a derivation from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and Nursery rhyme “My Lovely Family” were played repeatedly while I walked around the premise. 

What happened to me next was unexpected and just plain weird and rude.

“You have to speak Chinese!”

As I headed away from Ketagalan, I saw members of the Tong-Kwang Light House Presbyterian Church (同光同志長老教會) standing with a rainbow flag, a rainbow-colored cross and placards in support of same sex marriage.  I walked toward them to take some photos but then realized I was surrounded by the anti-same sex marriage participants, along with the members of the church.  After surrounding the church members for about ten minutes, one members of the “Order Maintenance Squad” said to the rest, “Move in closer!”  So the group of about thirty closed in on us.

I said to my partner, Mr.C, who was behind me, “These people are encircling us so closely, they are not leaveng me any space to take photos”. 

As soon as I said that, a middle-aged woman also with the “Order Maintenance Squad” sticker on her arm said to me loudly in Mandarin, “You need to speak Chinese here!”

Upon hearing the strange demand, I turned and around and asked, “I know how to speak Mandarin, but why shouldn’t I use my first language to communicate?”

She raised her voice even more and said, “You are Chinese!  You speak Chinese!”

“No, I’m not Chinese, I am Taiwanese!” I could hear myself getting louder, too.

“No, you are in China, you speak Chinese!” she responded.

“No!  We are in Taiwan, we are not in China!  What the hell are you talking about?” I looked her straight in the eye and said loudly in which I find her slowly backing away.

“Ok, we are in Taiwan, whatever, but you should speak Chinese”, she insisted and started turning away from me to face the stage far away.

“This is Taiwan, and a democracy.  You have no right to tell me which language I can use to communicate with!” I dropped her the last sentence and continue documenting what was happening in front of me with the church members.

At this point, I couldn't help but think, so, not only others' rights to be married should be dictated by the rhetoric of these rally participants, even one's freedom to communicate in a particular language is subject to screening as well?

Maintaining Order or False Imprisonment?

Moving onto Zhongshan South Road toward the National Central Library, I saw a small group of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights being surrounded by fifty men with “Order Maintenance Squad” on their arms.

After the Alliance members finished their press conference, the fifty men moved in toward them to prevent the small group from going anywhere else.  The men formed a human wall, blocking any one and everyone from moving on the street.  Some members of the Alliance broke free of the wall but were chased down and encircled again by the “Order Maintenance Squad”, while the police officers stood by and did nothing.

What is even more freaky and even creepy was these squad members all wore white hats and white facial masks.  They wouldn’t say a word yet they held hands to prevent individuals whom they deemed not to be on their side from freely walking on public streets or even leaving the rally premise.

I saw a young man being pushed to the ground by one of the squad members, as he was down, they held hand and stood over him.  One of them remarked in Taiwanese, “Wow, he’s difficult to catch!”  I thought, these people are ordinary citizens with no law enforcement authority over anyone, how is it legal and appropriate for them to chase down other citizens who they thought were in disagreement with their religious or political view?

I saw numerous similar incidents during the hours I was at the event.  While the event organizers on stage attempted to paint the façade of happiness, unity, harmony, morality, family values to cover up the underlying hatred, bigotry and discrimination, others with different stance were prevented from approaching the premise.  The supporters of same sex marriage with their placards were surrounded, chased down, tripped over and stopped by self-righteous citizens who somehow thought they have the right to act and play law enforcement.  

I heard rally participants compared homosexuality with Zoophilia (or bestiality),  calling homosexuals unnatural and sinful, and saying same-sex marriage supporters have AIDS while thanking and clapping for each other for attending the event.  One woman, also with a mask, kept trying to move around me so she could yell at a young gay man, saying, "Because of you, Taiwan will become promiscuous! (都是因為你們,台灣都可以雜交了啦!).
I did my best to prevent her from getting closer to the young man while shooting photos of the same-sex marriage advocates, because I understand fully, even though the young man seemed very confident and proud of who he was, the ugly words would still hurt, and that woman screamed at them with no other intention than to hurt. What made a person think it is appropriate to insult and degrade someone who is different than they are, I don't know, and I will probably never know. 

What also boggled my mind was the inaction of the police officers on scene.  Going through my photos, I saw many police officers just standing on the street corner or on the periphery of the area where anti-same sex marriage supporters bullied the gay rights activists, yet I didn't see any police officers intervene or help the gay rights activists escape the white-masked human circles. 

I observed Taiwan’s democratization and democracy for quite a few years now, but I have never seen anything like the rally I experienced yesterday.  My encounters with Taiwanese are often friendly, embracing and helpful, but not yesterday.  Now I saw a different face of Taiwan, which I am confident, is not THE face of Taiwan.  Very unfortunately, on Saturday, I discovered a gang of bullies, who would stop at nothing to prevent those who have different religious or political and police stance from expressing them and are actively preventing other citizens to have the same right to marry and to form families as they can.

For video of the members of the "Order Maintenance Squad" preventing other citizens from holding placards, click here.

Video of members of the Coalition for Happiness of Our Next Generation preventing PNN journalist from interviewing a young woman with a different opinion.

(All photos by author)

Same sex marriage supporters at the National Central Library

In front of the National Central Library, still far away from Ketagalan Boulevard, large group of anti-same sex marriage group members surrounded the gay rights supporters, preventing them from moving freely on public street

Young lesbian swarmed by a group of more than twenty, while the police on the right watched

Young gay man escapes
The anti-same sex marriage supporters would not let the young gay man go after capturing him

Members of the Tung-Kwang Presbyterian Church being surrounded by anti-gay marriage supporters

Arch on the rally site that says "Do not use foreign country to oppress us, Taiwan has right to decide". 

Leader of the gang calling for more backup

Young gay man captured by members of the Christian group


Guy said...

Those white-hatted homophobes are frightening. Their actions are utterly out of place in a liberal society. The unwillingness or inability of the police to adequately ensure the safety and basic freedom (in this case, to move) of all peoples is shameful.


Guy Beauregard said...

Those white-hatted homophobes are frightening. Their actions are utterly out of place in a liberal society, one in which we could and should ask basic questions about the distribution of state resources. The unwillingness or inability of the police to adequately ensure the safety and basic freedom (in this case, to move) of all peoples is shameful.


Ning ning said...

i know what you are talking about

"saw a young man being pushed to the ground by one of the squad members, as he was down, they held hand and stood over him. One of them remarked in Taiwanese, “Wow, he’s difficult to catch!”

Ning ning said...

saw a young man being pushed to the ground by one of the squad members, as he was down, they held hand and stood over him. One of them remarked in Taiwanese, “Wow, he’s difficult to catch!”

it's in this vid

Elias Ek said...

Thanks for being there and documenting this. So sad that some people feels the right to dictate how other people live their lives. Thanks for documenting the brown shirts in white masks...


Mike Fagan said...

There is no good reason why homosexuals cannot have the same rights as everyone else, including - particularly - the right to freedom of association and the right to self-defence.

However, everyone should also be free to discriminate as they see fit; for those who discriminate against homosexuals can themselves be discriminated against by others.

Homosexuals have a dire need for limits to State power, so that the theocrats cannot impose laws to coerce homosexuals into living according to the theocrats' pre-modern bullshit.

The claim that foreigners should not "oppress" the theocrats because "Taiwan has the right to decide" is pure collectivism: a "right" is something that pertains to individual human beings in a social context.

People live in societies, insects live in hives - not the other way around.

Josh said...

This is a difficult social issue for any country to legislate, and understandable for a traditional country like Taiwan to have similar resistance. But take hope. I've spoken with hundreds of teenagers about it, and the majority are certainly in favor of gay marriage. It's also my understanding that Taipei has the largest gay pride parade in Asia. At least when it comes to the next generation, most don't wear a white mask.

Harry Wu said...

I have read the report you wrote on 11/30 and want to make a related viedo.
Could I use the photos you took on 11/30? About those people with unsociable behavior.
Hope to get your support!! Thank you very much!!

Jason said...

No offence to Christianity, but if Taiwan did not have these particular Christians, this would not have happened. The "foreign influence" on Taiwan is not new legislation for equal rights; it's the very evil of a bigoted religion.

Angela said...

The irony: a religious group that was itself decried by China as a pernicious foreign influence, who had to escape to Taiwan for refuge to have freedom to associate, calling on the government, (that they do not even recognise as Taiwan, the country that saved them!) to not be pervaded by foreign influence. Wow.