Graphic by Brenna Connell/OutWrite
Content warning: queerphobia, medical sterilization, police, war, anti-queer legislation
Towards the end of October 2023, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that their long-held legislation requiring transgender citizens to undergo medical sterilization and have “no functional reproductive glands” to legally change their gender is in fact unconstitutional. Even with this change, they must be unmarried and have genitals that present as the “gender” they are trying to identify as. Though there remain some obstacles, this court decision will allow for a life without legal violations of physical autonomy. In the spirit of this queer legislative win for Japanese people, we’d like to highlight how queer folks in other regions of Asia have also witnessed victories and an expansion of dedicated space within the past year.
West of Japan, South Korea has received growing attention from the West for its music and pop culture, as well as its queer news. For the first time in Korean history, a court ruling in February passed the right for a same-sex couple to receive equal benefits, specifically within the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS), as their opposite-sex counterparts. In June, queer Koreans were positively surprised when the national police defended the annual LGBTQ festival in Daegu, South Korea, against the mayor Hong Joon-Pyo and other Christian protestors. The Korean police continued to defend the festival, claiming that it was a “legal assembly” and that removing anti-queer protestors was fulfilling their legal duty to protect public safety. This stance defied Korea’s previous reputation as a nation known for its conservatism and homophobia, though both still unfortunately persist.
Moving into Southeast Asia, the Philippines is known for being the most gay-friendly country in the region. Despite this positive reputation, queer Pilipinx people continue to struggle for equality as the Philippines’ Congress has reintroduced and rejected the sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) bill for over two decades. The bill would have criminalized discrimination on the basis of SOGIESC. Despite this potential setback, progress is still being made amongst the general public. A new study released in June of 2023 revealed that from a sample of 1,200 adult Filipinos, 79% of participants agreed with the statement that “gays or lesbians are just as trustworthy as any other Filipino.” Numerous statistics highlight Filipinos’ progressive views regarding the LGBTQ+ community, even speaking to how Catholicism can “boost the resilience” of queer people. Though the lack of supportive legislation has often disappointed the nation’s queer community, the population is fostering new respect and compassion for their fellow queer Pilipinx.
Back inland, a collection of other Asian nations have all taken strides to support LGBTQ+ people in 2023, but have yet to experience extensive human rights progress. The following summarizes some major spotlights:
In April, lawmaker Nguyễn Anh Trí proposed a bill to Vietnam’s Standing Committee of the National Assembly that would allow citizens to change their gender identity, request a legal gender change, and advocate for gender-affirming medical procedures. Though a decision has yet to be made, Vietnamese queer people hope for the best as the passing of this bill would propel progressive and queer-friendly changes in Vietnam’s legal system.
In May, Taiwan passed legislation that allows same-sex couples to adopt children regardless of biological status. A few years back, in 2019, Taiwan was the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, and now couples have legal protection when building the families they have always wanted.
In June, during Pride month, Laos celebrated International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT Day) after receiving approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the first time in Laotian history. Under Laotian law, although same-sex sexual relationships, gender marker changes, and the prohibition of gender-based discrimination have been legalized, queer marriages are still unrecognized by the government. However, developments for queer equality continue through social efforts such as Proud to be Us Laos that push for support and awareness of queer equality.
News coverage worldwide honed in on Thailand in November as the marriage equality bill that had been in the Cabinet for months was finally approved and moved to Parliament for further debate. The bill would change previous marriage legislation to feature more gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language and grant queer marriages the same rights as heterosexual ones. Later in December, queer Thai citizens celebrated the government’s sustained support for marriage equality as four bills were drafted supporting same-sex marriage, with 369 out of 380 lawmakers voting in support of merging the bills into one and potentially passing the bill in 2024.
Another development took place in Nepal where, after sparking controversy in 2018, the Nepalese Supreme Court finally issued the order in June for the government to recognize the marriages of non-heterosexual couples. Though immediate implementation is unlikely, this legalization excited many, as people have been collecting their documents in preparation for their new marriages.
Finally, India has seen a tight back and forth on queer politics. This past October, an unanimous order by India’s top court declined the legalization of same-sex marriage and instead left the decision to Parliament. This broke the hearts of India’s queer communities who had high hopes since the ban on same-sex sexual intercourse was lifted in 2015. The only consolation for LGBTQ+ Indians were government claims that they would consider giving equal financial rights and legal protections to queer people. The government elaborated further to say that they will consult various legal experts and queer activists regarding these decisions. Though the legislative results were a disappointment, the state of LGBTQ+ equality in India remains hopeful as these other advancements are considered.
The truth of the matter is that across the Asian continent there are queer people who have yet to experience the legal freedoms and “good news” that many of us in the West are privileged to have, especially in much of Western and Southern Asia. Nations across the world are facing internal and external conflicts that are preventing the push for queer liberation, one of the most prevalent now being the Israeli occupation of Palestine. What is undeniable is that we queer people have existed and are still existing in these places, regardless of whether our governments and societies care for our lives. Queerness has existed in Asia for centuries, with many Indigenous identities originally defying the institution of the cisheteronormative binary that Western nations forcibly instilled through genocide and colonization. To pursue queer liberation means to deconstruct the scars that this violence has left behind and return to the decolonized traditions that made space for queer people. Until the world makes space for queer identities, we must stand together in international solidarity and prioritize the visibility of those who have yet to see their homelands take the necessary steps for their freedoms.
To read on the queer lives of Asian nations not mentioned in this article, as well as the rest of the world, explore the resource Queering the Map, where queer people all over the world can record their queer joys, hopes, heartbreaks, and more.
Author: Claude Chung (He/They)
Artist: Brenna Connell (She/They)
Copy Editors: Ariana Castro (She/Her), Bella (She/Her)