TAIPEI, Taiwan — With the coronavirus pandemic making large gatherings impossible in many places, the biggest Pride events around the globe were mostly forced to scale back or move online.
But a march that drew hundreds of people in Taiwan on Sunday became both a celebration of diversity and a testament to the self-governing island’s ability to contain the coronavirus.
A giant rainbow flag led a procession across Liberty Square, a large plaza in central Taipei, in an event that Darien Chen, one of the organizers, said he hoped would bring comfort to the millions of people around the world who could not attend a big gathering because of the pandemic.
Few participants wore masks, as Taiwan has only five known coronavirus cases, all of them in quarantine. Taiwan, which has a population of 23 million, has recorded only 446 infections and seven deaths since its first case was reported in January.
After traveling across the square, marchers posed with a rainbow flag in front of a memorial to Chiang Kai-shek, the authoritarian ruler who brought martial law to Taiwan after fleeing Mao Zedong’s communist revolution in China in 1949. Mr. Chen screamed expletives at Chiang’s statue until going hoarse, as a small number of police officers watched.
Under martial law, which ended in 1987, homosexuality was a criminal offense. But Taiwan has since become a leader of gay rights in a region where such rights have lagged, and last year its government became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Countries without same-sex marriage need to maintain the struggle — their day will eventually come” said Chi Chia-wei, who was arrested in 1986 for coming out as gay. “Here in Asia we’re still waiting for the second country.”
The parade was planned on short notice as organizers realized that there might be no major offline events for the 50th anniversary of the first Gay Pride march, in New York City, held a year to the day after the Stonewall Riots began there. The riots and the march were turning points in the push for L.G.B.T. rights.
Taipei Pride — which is usually held in late October, when the chance of storms or typhoons is much lower — is East Asia’s largest Pride event. It regularly draws L.G.B.T. people from countries where discrimination and unequal treatment are far more entrenched.
Sarah Ondrus, a longtime Taipei resident originally from Oregon, said that while she normally attended Taipei Pride, she felt especially compelled to march on the anniversary of Stonewall.
“We’re marching for those who can’t,” she said.
The parade was Taipei resident Arlene Chen’s first time participating in a Pride event.
“I want Taiwan to embrace differences between people,” Ms. Chen said. “And I want the world to see Taiwan.”
The march on Sunday held new meaning for Chloé Grolleau, a French citizen who said it was her first Pride event identifying as queer. Ms. Grolleau carried a fan emblazoned with the message “Black trans lives matter.”
“It’s important to use this event to bring visibility to Black Lives Matter, and black trans lives,” she said. “They’re the most marginalized people in the world.”
The struggle for recognition is not unfamiliar to the people of Taiwan. The Chinese government claims the self-governing island as its territory, despite having never ruled it, and has used its growing global influence to isolate and erase Taiwan on the international stage.
The pandemic, however, has increased Taiwan’s visibility. Sports fans starved for live competition in the lockdown era have sent online viewership of Taiwan’s professional baseball league soaring. Taiwan has also donated millions of masks to countries around the world, including the United States.
“Taiwanese people understand what it’s like to be marginalized, so we are able to be a very cooperative and compassionate community,” Mr. Chen said. “Whether it’s standing up against China alone for years or our success during the current pandemic, Taiwan has been doing our best to be a global citizen and show that Taiwan can help.”
Orignially published in NYT.