British Columbia

LGBT rights, concern over pro-China party prompt Taiwanese Canadians to fly back to vote in election

Taiwanese Canadians from coast to coast are flying to the island of Taiwan for the presidential vote on Jan. 11. Among the key issues in the election are an opposition candidate perceived as pro-China and LGBT rights, which are supported by incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen.

Taiwanese voters rejected same-sex marriage in referendum before island made it law last year

Tsai Ing-wen, right, greets bisexual Taiwanese celebrity Ken Chung at the presidential office in December. (Tsai Ing-wen's Instagram)

Sixteen years after tying the knot in Canada, D. Kai Ma, 47, an Ottawa musician originally from Taiwan and his husband, Scott Simon, are flying Friday to Taiwan's southern city, Tainan, for marriage registration.

Ruby Ba, 34, came to Canada 18 years ago and teaches at a Vancouver school.  Next week, she will travel to Taipei, Taiwan's capital, for a family reunion.

But these are not the only reasons they will spend 13 hours crossing the Pacific.

They are joining others with dual citizenship in both countries to vote in Taiwan's presidential election Jan. 11.  Ma and Ba will vote for incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen, in large part due to her support for LGBT rights.

LGBT rights are a big issue

Ba co-ordinates a fan club in Canada dedicated to supporting Tsai's re-election. She will cast her first presidential ballot for Tsai, who openly supported marriage equality during and after her last presidential campaign in 2016. 

Ruby Ba, last row, second from left, takes a family photo with fellow members of a Canadian fan club for Tsai Ing-wen's re-election. (submitted by Ruby Ba)

Taiwan became Asia's first and only state to legalize same-sex marriage last May.

"When we talk about democracy and freedom, it cannot just only benefit a certain part of the society and not looking at other people's needs," Ba said.

She says given the strong conservative voices against gay marriage in Taiwan, Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party are "courageously risking their career and ruling power to fulfil ... the LGBTQ community's happiness."

Taiwanese voters rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum on Nov. 24, 2018, while electing candidates of the pro-China opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT) to most mayoral and county magistrate posts.

Simon, Ma's husband, is an anthropologist at the University of Ottawa. He cannot vote in Taiwan, but he will study presidential and parliamentary election rallies during the couple's stay in Tainan.

D. Kai Ma, right, and Scott Simon intend to register their marriage in Taiwan. (submitted by Scott Simon)

The 54-year-old professor says KMT parliamentary candidates in Tainan and other ridings "have really rallied around" the conservative forces against LGBT rights "as a way of detracting attention away from the issue with China."

Taiwan's existential crisis

KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu became mayor of Kaohsiung, a southern Taiwan city, in 2018. Han's recent comments have not indicated he opposes gay marriage.

However, Simon said because of the political unrest in Hong Kong, many Taiwanese are concerned a president Han "would negotiate some kind of agreement with China that would start putting limits on Taiwan."

In a recent debate, Tsai criticized Han for being too close to Beijing after he visited China's liaison office in Hong Kong last March.

Australian media claimed Beijing mobilized support for Han.

Ba said this feeling of an existential crisis facing Taiwan helps explain why she votes.

"In the past presidential elections, we always saw candidates ... would try to prove they were pro-Taiwan ... But it's surprising that this year Han Kuo-yu didn't even care to do that."

KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Taipei in late December. (Chiang Ying-ying/The Associated Press)

Canadians should help Taiwanese democracy

UBC Asian Studies professor Josephine Chiu-Duke teaches Taiwanese history. She said even if Han becomes president, the politically conscious younger generation "would try all sorts of possible ways to keep an eye on [his] government in terms of how they deal with Beijing."

A Taiwanese native, Chiu-Duke, said this election matters to all Canadians, who should "really do [their] best to try to help Taiwan's young democracy become more prosperous and develop successfully without being eroded by any unnecessary forces."

Ba's father will vote for Han.

But she won't and says her vote is to "leave a legacy" for Taiwan's younger generation so it will not "have to fight even harder for their freedom."

Because of Tsai's legacy, Ma and Simon will be able to register their marriage in Taiwan and intend to hold a wedding banquet before polling day. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winston Szeto

Digital Associate Producer, CBC Kelowna

Winston Szeto has written stories about different regions across British Columbia. Before landing in the Okanagan, he was a story producer with The Early Edition and On The Coast of CBC Vancouver. Send him tips via email winston.szeto@cbc.ca or Twitter @winstonszeto

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