Wearing a rainbow shirt and matching mask to Taipei’s Pride rally on Sunday, June 28, Ben Brommell summed up the goal of the day’s event: "We are here representing everyone who cannot march."
That list of people, as it turns out, includes almost everyone not living in Taiwan. With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving millions around the world under some form of lockdown, Taipei’s Pride parade was one of the only ones in the world this year.
As Pride events in most cities worldwide either went online or were canceled due to the coronavirus, Taiwan’s attracted some 1,200 people—evidence not only of the country’s reputation as being ahead of its regional peers in recognizing LGBTQ rights, but also of its successes in controlling COVID-19.
According to the Washington Post, the pandemic resulted in over 475 Pride events across the world being canceled or postponed.
But in Taipei, the event bore all the hallmarks of a typical Pride march: participants in festive dress, rainbow flags and banners, and posters bearing slogans like “Black Trans Lives Matter.”
Participants first gathered in Liberty Square, and after waiting for a heavy rain to stop, marched to the main memorial hall of Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan’s late autocratic leader, to call for the public to embrace the LGBTQ community. Under Chiang’s military rule, homosexuality was a crime in Taiwan.
But things have come a long way since martial law on the island ended in 1987, with Taiwan becoming the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
The event’s organizers said they chose the venue because it doesn’t require any permission to organise gatherings unless the government has planned an event in the area. Earlier this month, hundreds of Taiwanese and Hongkongers gathered at the same venue for a memorial commemorating those who died in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in China.
Aside from locals, expats were also out in force at Sunday’s parade. According to the organiser, the aim of the parade was to give Taiwan attention internationally, and to give hope to people around the world who weren’t able to march. Taipei generally holds its annual Pride parade in October, but moved the event up this year to coincide with global Pride Month.
“Hence, we deliberately didn’t promote the event to the local community,” said Darien Chen, the organizer of the event.
Andrea Villarreal, an expat from Panama who has been living in Taiwan for more than five years, joined the event with her classmate.
“I have many family members and friends who are part of the community,” she said. “We want to support them because they are important to us. And it is just fair for everyone to feel they can love and be loved.”
The crowd stayed in the plaza for nearly three hours, playing music, dancing, and singing songs.
“It’s crazy and amazing to be here! I feel so good to be part of a huge movement like this,” Nicaraguan student Helena Figueroa told VICE News.
Taiwan was able to hold a live Pride parade because the country has never gone into a total lockdown thanks to its early and effective work at stemming the spread of COVID-19.
Months into the pandemic, Taiwan, a country of nearly 24 million people, has reported only 447 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and only seven deaths.
“Taiwan has done a fantastic job and the people in Taiwan wear masks, do temperature checks and use hand sanitizer. They took all the precaution needed and didn’t complain about it,” said Brommell, a Canadian.
Organizers said it was a “privilege to carry the responsibility of holding a live pride parade in Pride Month this year,” and provided 400 rainbow masks for the marchers to raise the awareness of protection and hygiene measures to combat the spread of the virus.
Since its landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage last year, nearly 3,700 same-sex couples in Taiwan have wed.
Taiwanese marcher Leo Tsai told VICE News that he will marry his French fiancé soon. “I have been thinking of marrying someone since I was a kid, I am so happy that I can get married,” Tsai said.
Taiwan will also hold its regular Pride parade on October 31.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.