Debate over Tsai’s sexuality sparks outrage

The China Post news staff

Ex-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Shih Ming-teh’s public demand that incumbent DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen reveal her sexual orientation Thursday has resulted in a media war on issues of privacy, gay rights and the obligations of a political leader to the public.

The single DPP chairwoman’s sexual orientation has always been a topic of mild speculation among political circles. Regardless, Shih’s remarks resulted in a backlash from fellow DPP members and outraged women’s rights groups, who yesterday demanded that he make a public apology to Tsai.

According to local media reports, Shih, a former political prisoner and DPP chairman from 1994 to 1996, believed that as someone who has a chance of winning the 2012 presidential election, the single Tsai had an obligation to reveal her sexual orientation to the public. “If she directly answers the question, I will fully support her,” Shih reportedly said. Tsai’s spokesperson Hsu Chia-ching has called Shih’s demands an “irresponsible attack,” accusing him of discrimination and violation of human rights. DPP Members Rally Around Tsai Shih’s statements have reportedly confounded fellow DPP members.

Former premier Su Tseng-chang expressed on his Facebook page his complete disagreement with Shih’s remarks, explicitly stating, “Taiwan should not be like this. Politics should not be like this. I think this is terrible.” Hsu Hsin-liang, who succeeded Shih as DPP chair from 1996 to 1998, said it was clearly the chairwoman’s prerogative to disclose her inclination, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual. Hsu added that he did not personally know if Tsai was gay or straight, only that she has the right to keep her preferences to herself. Yulin County Magistrate Su Chih-fen, a close buddy of Shih, said she was completely bewildered by her good friend’s demand, adding that she is firm in her stance to “exclusively support” Tsai’s presidential campaign. Elections are an incredibly intense period, Su said, it should be a time for the DPP to rally around and protect Tsai, not to drag out such immaterial questions and challenge her sexual orientation. Regarding Tsai’s controversial campaign slogan of “exclusive support,” Hsu said he will refrain from criticism as long as the running candidate does not violate party rules, although he did add that he would never think of calling for “exclusive support of Hsu Hsin-liang” under the same circumstances. Women Rights Groups Urge Tsai to Remain Silent According to women’s rights groups such as the Awakening Foundation, Gender/Sexuality Rights Association and Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women’s Rights (TAPWR), Shih’s remarks constitute a form of sexual bullying and harassment.

The various organizations uniformly urged Tsai not to respond to Shih’s comments.

Regarding local reports that Shih also questioned the “soft” leadership skills of women, the groups stated at a press conference yesterday that Shih’s behavior directly violated women’s rights. From a gender-equality standpoint, Shih made a terrible political faux pas by questioning Tsai’s leadership skills, said Fan Yun, an associate professor at National Taiwan University’s Department of Sociology. From a sexuality-based standpoint, forcing people out of the closet without their consent, or demanding that they confirm their sexual orientation before they are ready are forms of persecution, Fan said, adding that the case was detrimental to gay rights not unlike the negative speculations on President Ma Ying-jeou’s sexual orientation in the past.