Yes, Homophobia Kills

Three days after an annual event was held to raise awareness on discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgenders, a young homosexual man jumped to his death in Taichung

On Saturday May 17, a section of Ketagalan Blvd that is usually reserved for small protests was turned into a rather unusual scene: a graveyard. Throughout the day, activists, artists, politicians and ordinary people delivered emotional speeches in commemoration of the many gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals who have lost their lives as a result of discrimination over the years. Very sadly, a mere three days after the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), the scourge claimed yet another victim, this time in Taichung.

This is the case of a young homosexual man surnamed Chang (張) who had recently enrolled in a divinity class at the National Chung Hsing University in Taichung. According to his account, the professor’s lectures went well beyond the scriptures and often devolved into outright gender discrimination. On several occasions, the professor was said to have argued that marriage is only possible between a man and a woman.

Unable to tolerate the content and tone of the course, Chang requested to be withdrawn and sought reimbursement from the school. Unfortunately, the university argued that it could not reimburse the NT$10,000 (US$300) fee and added, somewhat dismissively, that he should simply complete the course and “move on.” Chang disagreed with that view. To continue taking the course would constitute a betrayal of his self, he said, not to mention the likelihood that he would not obtain very good grades.

Faced with the intransigence of the university, Chang sent a letter the Chinese-language Apple Daily, in which he outlined his case and said that he was willing to die to defend the rights of homosexuals. A complaint to the Commission for Gender Equality was also sent and an investigation was initiated. On the morning of May 20, a reporter from the Apple Daily interviewed Chang and wrote that the young man appeared to have abandoned all thoughts of committing suicide.

At about 8pm that same day, Chang climbed to the 12th floor of a building on campus and jumped to his death. Given what we know, there is reason to believe that the school’s attitude toward his situation was an important factor in his decision to end his life.

Commenting on the tragedy, Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲), chief secretary at the university, said that the initial investigation by the Commission had determined that the professor had just explained the meaning of the Book and that this did not constitute sexual discrimination. Chen added that Chang had threatened to end his life in the past and that the school had paid greater attention to him, though it never expected he would take such action. According to the Taichung Fire Department, Chang had attempted suicide on four occasions last year.

In an official statement, the university said that people should value their life and not take extreme action whenever they encounter difficulties.

Chang’s act was not the result of mental instability, or even an act of selfishness. It was, above all, an attempt to draw attention to the injustice that continues to be perpetrated against homosexuals and transgenders within our schools, at the workplace, inside families, and within society at large, and to the indifference with which the system treats their existential malaise. That he acted on his threat to end his life a mere three days after IDAHOT is no coincidence. Despite the decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 17, 1990, to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, many people continue to regard it as abnormal. According to IDAHOT, 81 countries continue to criminalize same-sex relationships; among those, 10 impose the death penalty for homosexual acts. The Church itself, which has mobilized against the legalization of same-sex unions globally and here in Taiwan, often says that although it loves homosexuals, they are not entirely “natural” and must be “healed.” (Sadly even the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, one of the most progressive churches on the question of homosexuality, recently issued an official position statement opposing amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code, which would open the door for same-sex unions.)

Chang’s death could have been avoided had his community, and his university, taken the problem of discrimination seriously, and not something that can be ignored. Or rather, if they had understood the great psychological trauma that is done to individuals who are regarded as abnormal. All they ask is for acceptance of who and what they are, of the fact that homosexuality or third genderism is not a choice or disease that can, or should, be treated. Unlike what his university counseled, Chang could not simply continue to go to class and pretend that everything was fine, and to assume that he could reveals a serious lack of understanding of the issue.

As long as society refuses to acknowledge the simple fact that alternative sexual identification and preferences are perfectly natural occurrences — that such variety should be celebrated, in fact, as a symbol of Nature’s rich diversity — we will keep adding tombstones on Ketagalan Blvd every year on May 17.

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.

6 Responses to “Yes, Homophobia Kills”

May 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm, valvini said:

Dear Mike, 您好我的中文不是那麼好。。Any way I’ll check your blog …I saw one of your topic (just quicly) about the securiy in the metro.It’s funny because it was the purpose of my questionning. I mean why so many people are attract about something spectacular horror but…the road kill more every day (facebook, television, blablabla) DIscussion about sefety, guns and…wouhaou…and I didn’t see nothing about e death of Chan…I know the answer of course ….emotivity is our best answer to “phobia” ^^ and the media really don’t know what to do to make our life “sweety, constructive and humanistic”. Enjoy your Sunday! andrea


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