This week, Victory Institute hosted twelve coalition leaders from the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan (MECT) at our headquarters in Washington, DC. In May 2019, Taiwan’s Parliament made history by passing Article 4, officially legalizing marriage equality on the island following a three-year campaign that involved a lengthy legislative process, referendum, judicial ruling, and active movement in building public pressure, driven by the MECT. The organizers came to Washington to share lessons learned, discuss Victory Institute programs, and strategize next steps for building LGBTQ representation on the island.
“In America, we have an expression,” began Victory Institute Vice President Ruben Gonzales. “If you’re not at the table, you’re often on the menu.” Readers of this blog will know that LGBTQ elected officials are instrumental in making inroads for pro-equality legislation around the world. “Before we talk about Victory, I have a question for you. What role did out LGBTQ officials play in supporting your campaign?
MECT Deputy Coordinator Joyce Deng described the state of queer political representation. “There are only two out politicians in the entire country. Of course, there are more that aren’t out, but we only elected two out candidates to city council for the first time last November.”
The group adds that Miao Poya and Lin Ying-Meng were elected to city council in part because of the excitement around their work on the referenda. “Miao was a lead organizer for the referenda through her campaign, but it was effective because she’s a widely-known throughout civil society – not just the LGBT space.”
They added that in October 2018, Miao used her campaign to bring added political energy to Tapei Pride, which brought out a record 137,000 turnout in support of marriage equality. A few weeks later, 67% of Taiwan voters voted against legalization, but Maio’s win gave activists hope in the wake of a tremendous setback.
“How were you able to bounce back?”
Joyce Deng explains that by November, MECT had a massive public profile and Taipei Pride was a turning point in the movement. They spent the next few months ramping up their digital operations, training volunteers, demonstrations outside Taiwan Parliament, and lobbying legislators to introduce another bill in February 2019. That same month, the MECT even won endorsement from President Tsai Ing-wen, built public-private partnerships, and three months later, Parliament voted to make Taiwan the first Asian country to extend full civil rights for LGBTQ couples.
“We know that this is just the beginning. We aim to work with partners working on Marriage Equality throughout Asia, but also need to win political representation at home,” said Deng.
“The first step is convincing advocates to get over the fear of being visible,” said Alheli Partida, who leads Victory Institute’s international training program. “The most important component is building relationships little by little and encouraging leaders to start small. You can be an enormous influence in a local position and grow from there.”
MECT’s Jennifer Lu agreed. “In Taiwan, it is easier for LGBTQ people to run for city council because seats commonly only need 7 or 8 percent of the vote to win.”
“Two out elected officials is an incredible start,” says Reggie Greer, Victory Institute’s Director of Constituent Engagement. “We hold less than 0.1% of all seats nationwide. We may be small in number, but we are powerful.”
He adds that Victory encourages the network to engage with each other, share policy ideas, attend regional gatherings, and successfully advocate for pioneering legislation across all LGBTQ issues.
An MECT member asked how Victory manages contrasting political interests within the network: “Sometimes when we work with [Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party] – the ruling party now, [New Power Party supporters] will attack us for being too moderate. How do you find the balance?”
“Unfortunately, as LGBTQ candidates have won in the record numbers, the number of LGBTQ Republican elected officials has gone down,” said Ruben Gonzales. “The sad reality is that gay Republicans tend to be more moderate, and they’re having trouble making it out of the primary. Still, we remain singularly focused on representation and are committed to inclusion.”
As the meeting came to a close, Victory Institute discussed bringing our signature training program to the region next year.
Ruben Gonzales then extended a formal invitation to appear at this year’s International Leaders Conference from November 13-16 in Washington, DC. RSVP today for an opportunity to meet them and other global change-makers.