Behind the Handlebars of Taiwan's "Pride on Bicycles"
Asia Rainbow Ride hopes to offer a platform for LGBTQIA+ communities in Taipei through cycling. (Photo/Asia Rainbow Ride)
Author: Seb Morgan
Photographer: Samil Kuo, Asia Rainbow Ride, GinGin Store, Taiwan Scene
Before social gathering was halted due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, TAIPEI made it out to join a quick cycling trip with Asia Rainbow Ride (亞洲彩虹騎行). In this last ride before national restrictions were imposed under the Level 3 epidemic alert, we were able to catch the late afternoon sun casting long shadows across the riverside park in Taipei as a string of YouBikes cruised along the river, with a Pride ribbon fluttering from each tangerine bicycle. It was a gentle 20-kilometer ride up the river that ended in Ximending, Taipei's animated central gayborhood.
"I think there's definitely more experiences that open up when people feel able to carry themselves outside of their safe space, you know like riding with pride flags along the river," says Olivia Wu, co-founder of Asia Rainbow Ride.
It's been just over a year since Olivia started Asia Rainbow Ride together with her partner Eve and fellow queer activists Lisa and Jennifer Dazols. This October, the group will hold what they call "a pride parade on bicycles," a spectacular three-day, two-night bike tour across Taiwan's rugged northeast coast, in support of Taiwan's LGBTQIA+ charities.
Since its founding, the Rainbow Ride crew has been holding social rides around Taipei — "a healthy, positive activity where people are celebrated for who they are." They usually select certain routes in advance and gather at a MRT station where U-Bike rentals are available. The rides are as much a chance for members and allies of the community to mix and make friends as they are a platform for queer people who are still finding their self-confidence. Recent activities, unfortunately, have been cancelled as the pandemic goes on.
"At one of our recent meets, we had a young gay Taiwanese man who was thinking about coming out to his parents. After the ride, we got to have a nice six-person conversation about trying to give this guy some support, because it's a really difficult dilemma to be in," says Lisa.
Finding Their Peddles
Raised in a conservative Asian American household, Jennifer understands the importance of being able to have these types of conversations. "When I came out in my early 20s, I didn't know any gay people, so you know I had no idea how to be," she says.
In 2007, Jennifer took part in the AIDS Lifecycle, an annual bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles held in support of local LGBTQIA+ and HIV centers. "Suddenly, I was surrounded by two to three thousand people, and all these things that society normally looks down upon — being gay, being HIV positive, being handicapped, being a terrible cyclist — they weren't just accepted, they were applauded."
She shoots a smile at Lisa. "Also I met my wife!"
Lisa, an unswervable cycling enthusiast, was an HIV social worker working mostly with gay immigrants in San Francisco then. The couple later embarked on a journey across Asia, Africa, and South America to record queer experiences around the world for their 2015 documentary Out & Around.
Embracing Diversity in Taiwan
Visiting Taipei together as part of their Out & Around itinerary, Jennifer and Lisa said they were impressed by the city's active scene, particularly its diversity of spaces that cater to queer women. "We found lifestyle and media stores like Love Boat Shop (愛之船啦啦時尚概念館) — where we met Olivia — and GinGin Store (晶晶書庫), a LGBT theme bookshop," says Jennifer. "We were really surprised to find these spaces that even in the West aren't super common."
GinGin Store is the first composite store in Taipei highlighting feminism and gender issues by offering a wide range of products and services such as books, audio/video, arts, and exhibitions. It was also one of the driving forces behind Taipei's earliest LGBTQ- friendly policies.
Eve says that Taipei's inclusive queer scene helped her connect with her identity when she first came out. "When I first visited Taiwan, I was new as an LGBTQIA+ person and was looking for a way to learn about the community. So, the first thing I did was to go to Love Boat and get myself a rainbow flag — so I could acknowledge to myself that yes, this is who I am."
In Singapore, where Eve is from, conservative attitudes prevent many in the queer community from publicly expressing their identity. "For me to see young queer people, older queer people, just walking hand-in-hand on the street in Taiwan — that was quite a change," she says. "So with Taiwan LGBT Pride, seeing people coming together and marching for something. I think that is huge."
Lisa agrees that Taiwan has the potential to lift up LGBTQIA+ communities across Asia, a region that has traditionally dismissed queer identities as something that only exist in the West.
"That's why the idea with Asia Rainbow Ride is that it becomes this exchange of ideas, this time when people can come over from Japan, from Singapore. They can relax, they can let their guard down, they can form friendships."
"They can imagine a different way of life," Jennifer adds.
Riding with Community in Mind
In addition to offering three days of gorgeous granite- hewn coastal scenery, Asia Rainbow Ride is an opportunity for riders to get to know one another and familiarize themselves with Taiwan's queer community. Movie screenings, drag shows, and yoga on the beach were all features of last year's event, with comfy oceanside hotels for accommodation.
Participants don't have to be seasoned cyclists either. "The majority of last year's riders were beginner to intermediate cyclists," explains Lisa. Groups are split up by speed, e-bikes are available, and there's a sag wagon in case riders get tired.
The whole point for you is to enjoy yourself, says Olivia. Everything has been planned with safety and support in mind.
Riders will get a bit of an education too. The non- profits that the event supports will also be invited along to talk about what is going on in Taiwan and Asia. "We want this ride to be a fundraising mechanism for these to amplify their services," says Lisa.
Asia Rainbow Ride donates 100% of its profits to three Taiwan-based NGOs, namely Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBTQ+) Hotline Association (台灣同志諮詢熱線協會), Taiwan AIDS Foundation (台灣紅絲帶基金會), and Taiwan Equality Campaign (彩虹平權大平台), which successfully lobbied for the Supreme Court's landmark 2017 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
Taiwan is the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, marking a step toward equality for the queer community. But members of Asia Rainbow Ride see a bigger picture that includes the full diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community.
"When talking about LGBTQIA+, we tend to just think about people in our representation, but you know there is a whole spectrum of experiences. There are LGBTQIA+ people who are elders, who are parents, who want to adopt a child," Olivia says of their choice of beneficiaries. "The thing about these NGOs is they're doing miracles on a shoestring budget, so it's important that we amplify their services," explains Lisa.
Despite marked progress over the past two decades, numerous challenges continue to dog the more marginalized members of Taiwan's LGBTQIA+ community. HIV discrimination is one such ongoing issue. A 2017 study conducted by Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (衛生福利部疾病管制署) found that around one in five respondents living with HIV experienced discrimination from family members, while others had been refused service from hospitals.
"We need to be open about all of these issues. We need to get through to those people out there who are trying to avoid these subjects," explains Olivia. "We need to get them to realize that we're not going to go away."
SIGNING UP FOR AISA RAINBOW RIDE!
A friendly reminder from TAIPEI during the COVID-19 restrictions. During the pandemic, please try to stay home if possible. When going out, please wear a mask and follow the epidemic prevention regulations.