How Taiwanese Democracy Changed the Way I See My Life

I remember being in Taiwan with my Ama, standing in a convenience store on the verge of tears because she refused to leave with me if I bought a headband I wanted. A deeply Christian woman, I knew she wouldn’t understand but it was important for me to try to explain why I wanted it. I remember telling her about the diversity of sexuality and gender which got lost somewhere in a mind clouded by a language barrier and dementia/Alzheimer’s (my eccentric, triathlete, U.S. Navy veteran, e-bike entrepreneur uncle, who believes he is a doctor, unofficially diagnosed her). In English, she said, “boy is boy and girl is girl.” We discussed it further and I agreed not to buy the headband but I think we both knew her rejection of my intended purchase was a symbol for something larger. In Guo Yu, she said to me, “你是一個乖乖的男生!” (meaning “you are a well-behaved boy!”) I began to realize after that moment I was being pushed away from my family by a force that I couldn’t understand or name yet. I smiled and hugged her tight as ever but the whole exchange in that store had hurt me more than she knew. 

Through my experiences in Taiwan, I imagined it to be a fairly socially conservative place. I could not even begin to imagine what it would look like for me to go back to Taiwan after coming out. However, the LGBTQ+ movement in Taiwan has seen many victories within the past couple of years with examples being the legalization of same-sex marriage and limited adoption rights being granted to same-sex couples: “Taiwan is notable for its liberal attitudes towards gender, sexual orientation, and marriage” (Feng). Time has probably made a big difference in Taiwan’s social views but the efforts of the current government have made monumental advancements for the queer community in Taiwan. 

In 2016, Audrey Tang (唐鳳, Táng Fèng) became Taiwan’s first transgender minister and youngest minister in history. Leaving school when she was a teenager, Tang became an advisor for organizations like Apple in Silicon Valley. They have been described as Taiwan’s “Genius” and her IQ is reportedly higher than the maximum value of 180. In her role as minister, they were at the forefront of Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her strategy of humor over rumor has been immensely effective in dispelling misinformation. They adopted a policy of 2-2-2 which is to respond to misinformation within twenty minutes, with less than 200 words, and with two funny images. Using this strategy, Tang successfully quelled worries about a toilet paper shortage after a rumor spread that it would be used to manufacture face masks (Mahdawi). Combating misinformation is a key part of her job whether it’s regarding COVID-19 or part of a Chinese misinformation campaign (“Audrey Tang – Digital Minister at Taiwan”). Beyond COVID-19, Tang’s ministership has seen mold-breaking progress in the context of democracy. 

From fostering the g0v initiative, improving systems that respond to natural disasters, and increasing civic engagement in government has been immensely effective in their work. Tang has been a core member of g0v which is a collection of tech workers, programmers, and activists who have created numerous social projects by adapting existing programs for a new use. She has served as an influential “moderator” between the state and the public (Kim). A self-described small-c conservative anarchist, Tang has made public voice and transparency key facets of their operating style. She uses a space called where petitions that garner a certain level of public support receive a response from a minister. Additionally, they also record and publish all of the minutes from their meetings online so that anyone can access them. Preventing things from falling into a “black-box” is an important factor of responsible innovation and good governance (“As Taiwan’s First Digital Minister, I Was Asked To Write My Own Job Description”). In Tang’s view, the majority is at the heart of democracy but she values the influence of minorities within societies and systems (Chiu). With the legalization of same-sex marriage, Tang helped create a system that would not bond the families of same-sex couples in the eyes of the government but the two individuals would be considered legally married. The “hyperlink act” was a way to bridge the divide between the LGBTQ+ community and the more socially conservative older generations in Taiwan (Kim). Through their actions, Tang demonstrates a way of working in a democracy that follows the majority view without trampling the minority.

Tang’s efforts in combating misinformation and fostering public participation in government are a model for the issues that plague democracies around the world. Being conscious of mistakes made in the past and working to amend them in the future is another part of Tang’s work: “There is a very strong kind of urgency to make that accessible for people who are using phones and want to teach their children Mandarin or Hakka or Holo, so anything that the government offers that doesn’t meet this need in a democratic society is definitely a governmental shortcoming” (Wiblin 01:55:05-01:55:23). The competition between democracy and authoritarianism is currently the focus of the international world. The geopolitical standing of Taiwan is a product of this competition. Just like the rest of the world, Tang sees the significance of Taiwan’s accomplishments in the context of the threat posed by the People’s Republic of China: “We have a responsibility to show that democracy works, and not just lockdown or top-down or takedown” (Kim). Learning about how Tang, as a queer person, has had such an incredible impact on Taiwanese democracy and the concept of democracy in the world is personally inspiring.

Because of my family, I thought my Taiwanese identity would constantly be at odds with my queer identity. These identities are actually quite connected because other people have decided to make them political. Being queer is made political and being Taiwanese is made political. I was almost destined to have an interest in politics. Rather than seeing my identities as barriers to my visions and goals, I know now that they are assets in achieving great things. While I would never presume to claim I am the next Audrey Tang, her example and their leadership as someone who is like me is validating. They make me believe that I have something to bring to the world because I am authentically myself. Having that realization and embracing that idea heals me more than anyone could know.



Works Cited
“As Taiwan’s First Digital Minister, I Was Asked To Write My Own Job Description.” Asia Society, n-job-description. Accessed 16 Oct. 2023.
“Audrey Tang – Digital Minister at Taiwan.” Rest of World, 11 May 2022,
Chiu, Iris. “Digital Minister Audrey Tang: Taiwan’s ‘Genius’ and Her Unique Past.” Nippon.Com, 10 Apr. 2020,’s-g enius-and-her-unique-past.html.
Feng, Emily. “Same-Sex Couples Will Now Have Full Adoption Rights in Taiwan.” NPR, 16 May 2023. NPR, Hale, Erin. “How Taiwan Used Simple Tech to Help Contain Covid-19.” BBC News, 25 Feb. 2022.,
Kim, E. Tammy. “Audrey Tang on Her ‘Conservative-Anarchist’ Vision for Taiwan’s Future.” Rest of World, 29 Sept. 2020,
Mahdawi, Arwa. “Humour over Rumour? The World Can Learn a Lot from Taiwan’s Approach to Fake News.” The Guardian, 17 Feb. 2021. The Guardian, ke-news.
Wiblin, Rob. Audrey Tang on What We Can Learn from Taiwan’s Experiments with How to Do Democracy. Accessed 16 Oct. 2023.

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