A protester wearing Korean traditional dress makes a three-finger salute during an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 7, 2020. Credit – Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesTan Seng Kee, a 62-year-old retired doctor and LGBTQ+ activist, recently filed a motion in Singapore’s High Court, asking it to order the city-state’s cabinet to revoke a colonial-era law that could imprison men for up to two years for engaging in consensual sex.The law is rarely enforced, but it’s the symbolism that counts: despite gradual, progressive shifts in official rhetoric, Singapore remains one of the more conservative states in the region when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. Taiwan, by contrast, was a pioneer in recognizing same-sex marriage in May 2019, to be followed by Thailand, which passed a civil partnerships bill in July 2020.Asian critics of homosexuality have long argued that it is a Western behavior, superimposed upon Eastern cultures as a decadent, neo-colonial side effect of globalization. Even those who are not opposed to homosexuality tend to shrug their shoulders at what they believe to be a uniformly conservative continent when it comes to sexual politics. It’s just not Asian, many say. The public will never accept it.Yet reality yields a far more complex picture. According to a 2019 Pew survey, wealthier countries tend to be more accepting of homosexuality regardless of whether they are Asian or Western. For example Japan, which has the world’s third biggest economy, is significantly more accepting of homosexuality than, say, Israel, Poland, Lithuania, or Greece. Affluent South Korea is far more accepting than Bulgaria or Ukraine.
Homophobia Is Not an Asian Value. It’s Time for the East to Reconnect to Its Own Traditions of Tolerance
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