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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 12:31 GMT
Taiwan's gay campaigners
By the BBC's Francis Markus in Kao-hsiung, Taiwan

Taiwan's parliamentary election taking place on Saturday will includes for the first time two openly gay candidates.

The two are both independents, not backed by any party.

We pay taxes and do our social duties like straight people, we should have the same rights

Chen She Lin
But their campaign is significant in a society where conservative attitudes to homosexuality are widespread.

One of the candidates, James Jan, is a long-standing campaigner for gay rights in Taiwan's second city, Kao-hsiung.

His campaign truck blares its way through the rush hour traffic in this southern industrial port, the loudspeaker on the back pumping out a recorded message mainly about social and economic reform. Perhaps surprisingly not about gay rights.

"I get a warm reception from working class people if I don't emphasise my homosexuality, although I don't play it down, more so than from middle class shopkeepers," he says.

Public unsure

He demonstrates this at a food market, just one stop on the campaign trail.

Woman waves Republic of China flag from her window during the election campaign
Gay rights are not on the mainstream agenda
At the poultry stall James gets drawn into the butcher's in-depth lament about the state of the economy. As he proceeds through the market, he is politely received, but only a few of the traders have come across him on television and know what he represents.

One person who does recognise him is a taxi driver, and he is not impressed.

"I saw him yesterday, I'm not keen," he says. "Taiwan is still very conservative, they should wait until democratisation's got to a later stage."

But a friend and supporter of James, Oe Wan U, says Taiwan is ready for openly gay people in politics.

"There have been many years of the gay movement in Taiwan and many people hold some activities of gays and lesbians in Taiwan but especially in Taipei.

"But I think James in Kao-hsiung to have this campaign is more difficult."

Demanding rights

Another campaigner, Lin Wei Lin, who describes herself as a feminist, has also been helping with the campaign.

Man walks down steps covered with campaign flags
Nearly 100 parties are contesting the election
"I am not a lesbian, but these kind of issues are ones we are concerned about," she says.

"I think women and gays and lesbians are in a very similar situation. Women are not in the same status as men and we hope that women have this [status]."

Another of the women on the campaign truck, Chen She Lin, is a lesbian and feels strongly about these issues.

"I saw a report about him [James Jan] on television and I wanted to stand up and do something for gays and lesbians - on things like our rights, the issue of marriage and adoption," she says.

"Because most gays and lesbians like me, we don't have much confidence and I'm just in the dark, I don't know where my future lies.

"So I think he can help give people information about their rights. We pay taxes and do our social duties like straight people, we should have the same rights.

"I think it's unfair."

For the moment James and his fellow gay candidate in the capital Taipei, lack resources and the backing of a party that would be willing to select them. Their venture is just a start but for Taiwan's gay community it is a significant step in the process of getting their voices heard by society at large.

See also:

21 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan election campaign opens
16 Nov 01 | Business
Recession hits Taiwan
21 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Taiwan's relations with China
06 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Taiwan
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