Ihave just returned from my second visit to Taipei, a beautiful city with a lot to offer. Famed for its modernity, vibrant street life and political passion, Taipei holds another significance that not many Thais know about _ it is home to Asia's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parade.
The 11th Taiwan LGBT Pride event took place last Saturday. It was a lovely, breezy day and I found myself together with tens of thousands of people from around the world in the park near Taipei City Hall, which was the starting point of the parade. Last year, around 65,000 people joined in, and judging from what I saw, there could have been more this year.
Bangkok has staged small LGBT parades in previous years, but sadly they are no more. However, in Phuket, a pride parade takes place every year in the Patong area, but it is rather small. From what I can gather, it seems many gay people believe Thai society is so tolerant we don't see the need to make such a big fuss. But if they were at the Taipei parade, they would know why voicing our rights is so important.
It was a day full of rainbow headbands, T-shirts and hairdos. The crowd, from college students to foreigners, was enthusiastic and energetic. Important figures in Taiwan's LGBT community made passionate speeches. Celebrities, both local and international, took turns to entertain the crowd. Hong Kong's Denise Ho, the openly gay ''Cantopop'' star, flew in and sang a beautiful song in Chinese that I wish I could have understood.
People waved flags from across the world and it must be remembered that in hosting this event, Taiwan has done a tremendous favour to many LGBT people who live in a more closed society and may not be able to speak out and live proudly.
This year's theme was ''Make LGBT Visible 2.0 _ The Voice Of Sexual Sufferers''. According to the organisers, ''2.0'' means creating a second wave for LGBT rights as society and the understanding of human rights has not moved on in the past decade. And the phrase ''Sexual Sufferer'' refers to individuals forced to hide their true selves from their family and society due to their sexual orientation and identity.
However, there was criticism towards the chosen theme, and especially the term ''Sexual Sufferer'', as many LBGT activists believed that the parade should focus more on the same-sex marriage campaign.
Despite this, the local LGBT community was out in force, and the parade saw a variety of groups joining the event, from those living with HIV, to transgenders, bisexuals, fetishists and ''bears'' _ stocky or chubby gay men. The whole thing was an enriching experience, with people waving and cheering from beginning to end.
One of the many floats was from Tokyo, inviting all to the city's upcoming LGBT parade in 2014, and next month there will also be a small gathering in Hong Kong.
I feel happy for my Taiwanese friends to have such a united community. It wasn't my first pride parade, but it was as powerful as any of the others I have attended. Love was everywhere _ couples, parents and friends who came out and stood together with those they love and care dearly for unconditionally and without prejudice.
Even though the campaign for equal rights for gay couples still continues _ activists are hoping Taiwan's parliament will pass a same-sex marriage bill soon _ Taipei has clearly shown its rainbow force. And it was impressive.
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Gay participants in Taiwan’s traditional highland costume.