McCafé Ad Promoting Acceptance of Gays Draws Fire from Conservative GroupsThe latest reaction by a conservative religious alliance in Taiwan occurs just as Beijing passes new controversial regulations banning the depiction of homosexual acts on television
All eyes within the LGBTQI community were turned on China in the past week after Beijing unveiled its new General Rule on TV Productions (電視劇製作通則), which characterizes homosexuality as “unusual sexuality” and bans it along with “other perversions,” sexual abuse, and incest from TV content. While China was taking one major step backwards on the issue, a restaurant chain in Taiwan did the exact opposite with a TV commercial that promotes acceptance — and yet here too, backward forces mobilized to arrest progress and limit our freedom of expression.
In its new McCafé ad campaign, McDonald’s Taiwan introduced a TV spot in which a young man at a McCafé “comes out” to his father by scribbling “I like boys” (我喜歡男生) on a paper cup. After reading the message, the ill-at-ease father walks away, leaving his anxious son alone at table. A few seconds later the father comes back, grabs his son’s cup, and draws an insert symbol with the words, “I accept you” (接受你).
Though it is unrelated to the blends of coffee or breakfasts one will find at a McCafé, the message is nevertheless progressive, promoting diversity and acceptance. McCafé didn’t have to do this, and arguably there are several other — and safer — subjects it could have used to increase its market appeal. That it chose this subject not only reflects well upon the fast food chain but is also an indication of the progressiveness of Taiwanese society, especially of the young people who conceivably are the target audience here.
As expected, opponents of LGBTQI rights didn’t disappoint. No sooner had the TV spot begun airing than groups of conservative Christians slammed McDonald’s decision to air the commercial. Chang Shou-yi (張守一), secretary-general of the Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan (台灣宗教團體愛護家庭大聯盟), condemned the “ideology” behind McDonald’s advocacy of gay rights.
For its part the Taiwan Family Alliance (台灣守護家庭), a member of the same anti-LGBT rights coalition (see Section 2 of by book Black Island (黑色島嶼：一個外籍資深記者對台灣公民運動的調查性報導) for an in-depth discussion on the groups’ connections and ideology), deplored McDonald’s “deliberate contamination” of the next generation through its promotion of “incorrect behavior.” The Alliance has called on parents to boycott McDonald’s, adding that children should even avoid using their washrooms lest they be “contaminated.”
Apparently it would have been more “correct” and “moral” for the father to bang his fist on the table, throw the cup across the room and berate his son for daring to tell him who he really is. Perhaps he should even have roughed him up a bit, since violence at home doesn’t seem to be a social ill with which the same religious organizations are particularly worried.
Besides its assault on freedom of expression, the Alliance is once again resorting to fear and unscientific “evidence” to convince the rest of us about the supposed dangers of homosexuality. Once again, it raises the specter of “brainwashing,” as if homosexuality can be taught. And this time goes one step further by suggesting that homosexuality can also be “caught,” like a virus, by merely sitting on a toilet or washing one’s hands in a basin. The logic here, it seems, is that since the airing of the TV ad, the toilets at McDonald’s nationwide will have turned into congresses for homosexuals, no longer the site of natural relief for young men and women who are drawn to the fast-food chain because of its many artery-clogging offerings.
The Alliance doesn’t seem to realize that its reactions to homosexuality place it in the same camp as the Chinese Communist Party, a well-known human rights violator. What nice bed-fellows the Alliance has!
Minutes after seeing the McCafé ad for the first time, my spouse and I decided to order McDonald’s — not only because it was convenient to do so and we were very tired, but mostly because we were pleased with what we’d just seen in their commercial. Honestly I’ve never been a big fan of McDonald’s, but that evening I must admit that I found it particularly tasty. And you know what? Neither of us was “contaminated”; we’re still heterosexual.
J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.