How Taiwan became the most LGBT-friendly country in Asia

Every year people come from around the region and around the world.

And it happens in one of the smaller countries in Asia: Taiwan.

Taiwan is the most LGBT-friendly country in the region.

Last year it cleared the way for same sex marriage.

We came to find out why this happened here before anywhere else.

I'm Nikhil Sonnad.

This is Quartz.

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Here's why Taiwan stands out.

More than two dozen countries have legalized same-sex marriage.

They're mostly progressive Western countries, like Canada and Sweden.

But in Singapore and Malaysia, same-sex intercourse can lead to a prison sentence.

It's legal in Japan, South Korea, and China, but those countries don't recognize same sex partnerships.

But last year Taiwan's highest court announced that the country would have to find a way to make same-sex marriage legal within two years.

Taiwan's progressive in other ways too.

71% of citizens support marriage equality, according to a 2015 poll.

The first LGBT bookstore in the Chinese speaking world is in Taipei.

Even Taiwan's president has publicly supported same-sex marriage.

Like in this campaign ad.

Part of why Taiwan has embraced LGBT rights is its tense relationship with China.

First a bit of history: During the Chinese Civil War, the nationalist Kuomintang party fled to Taiwan, to escape Mao and the communists.

The Kuomintang established a dictatorship on Taiwan that lasted nearly 40 years.

– The lifting of the martial law in 1987 opened up social space for a lot of previously repressed social issues.

Josephine Ho is considered the godmother of Taiwan's queer movement.

– Things like labor rights, women's rights, environmental issues, ethnic issues.

All of these issues were bubbling at the time.

The move to democracy opened up the country to political parties.

And a free press.

Most importantly, it created a huge rift with China, a one party state that thinks Taiwan is part of its territory and not an independent country.

– The China issue is closely related to gay issue and gay movement in Taiwan.

Because it can serve a very important function in promoting Taiwan's image as a democratic state, as in was the international trends of gay equality.

– The first time I had a feeling, oh wait I'll probably I can get married.

Wang Yichi met her girlfriend the day of the Supreme Court decision.

Yichi is from Taiwan and Marjorie Choi is from mainland China.

– Oh you're from Taiwan, so congratulations to you today.

And we would cheer us and we talk a lot.

Then we became friends since that day so thanks to– – Thanks to the news.

– Yeah.

They both live and work in Beijing.

– The LGBTQ in China still is taboo topic.

I think Taiwan, I actually quite surprised many of my friends, they are straight, and they are very into this movement.

A big part of Taiwan's push for LGBT rights has been its youth movement, which is worried about China.

– I think the young people are very anxious about Taiwan's future.

Miao Poya is a leader of Taiwan's politically active youth movement, and is running for city council in Taipei.

– After the Sunflower Movement I think the young people feels that if we do something, we can really change something.

2014 was pivotal for Taiwan's youth movement.

Students came out in force to protest a trade deal they felt would bring the country too close to China.

They occupied the legislature for 23 days.

And it worked.

The deal was postponed.

This activism offers lessons for Taiwan's neighbors.

Do you think Taiwan can provide an example for other Asian democracies? Cheng Chi-wei is a social worker with Taiwan's oldest LGBT activist group, Hotline.

He helped organize the very first pride parade.

Activists from all over Asia come to Chi-wei with questions– they want to learn from Taiwan.

– In other country gay always gay community, lesbian, lesbian community.

But in Hotline, you can see LGBT in the same office.

Other country workers, they always ask how.

This group came from China.

Chi-wei tells them that a big part of Taiwan's success has been working with activists in areas beyond just LGBT rights.

But even in Taiwan, progress is fragile.

The high court's decision led to a backlash.

Conservative groups are trying to put a stop to marriage equality through a referendum that's being held as part of this year's election.

– So this pink color is all over the city with this phrase "ai jia" meaning love family.

And it's telling people that they believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

This is a reminder that — even with the threat of China and a culture of activism — there's no guarantee that Taiwan will become a beacon for LGBT rights in Asia.

– In 2009, when the gay pride march was celebrating itself, its growing number, and size, suddenly the religious groups came up.

I think that was a very very good moment, because people need to know that you haven't done the job yet.

You haven't convinced people who have different values and different ways of life.

Josephine wants to make sure that Taiwan is doing more than demanding equality in name only.

– You shouldn't be just working on the language of progressive families.

You need to work on progressive ways of life, which will need a lot of time to discuss, debate.

You need to learn to really respect values that you cannot tolerate.

Maybe Taiwan's real achievement, same sex marriage aside, is getting itself to a place where it could have that national conversation.

– There's a big gap between each other.

So we need to find a chance to talk.

– Coming to this parade it's not going to just have fun, drink, and all that.

First time in my life I feel I'm responsible.

It's really going to set example for so many other countries in Asia.

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