TAIPEI (AFP) — Thousands from Taiwan's gay and lesbian community marched through the streets of Taipei Saturday demanding more rights for homosexuals, organisers said.
The parade took a carnival-like mood with marchers waving rainbow flags, colourful balloons and signs. Some were dressed in flamboyant period costumes while others only wore swim trunks despite the cool weather.
"We have to make our voices and demands heard so that the government will do more to promote gay rights," said Way Chao, a 22-year-old serviceman from southern Kaohsiung.
In a symbol of unity, participants will raise coloured placards to form a giant rainbow flag later Saturday in a bustling business district in Taipei, organisers said.
The parade reached its climax with a rally outside Taipei City Hall, where Taiwanese pop diva A-Mei was recognised as a goodwill ambassador by organisers for her support of the gay community.
The singer, who performed some of her hit songs to the cheering crowd, endeared herself to the gay audience when she released a music video depicting a gay wedding scene several years ago.
Despite the festive atmosphere, organisers hoped to get some serious messages across to the public.
"We urge the parliament to pass the anti-discrimination bill and the same-sex partner bill to promote gay rights," said co-organiser Wang Ping, secretary-general of Gender/Sexuality Rights Association Taiwan.
Taiwan's cabinet in 2003 drafted a controversial bill to legalise same-sex marriages and recognise the rights of homosexual couples to adopt children, the first country in Asia to do so.
However, the law has yet to be passed and some gay groups have criticised the bill as a ploy to woo voters.
"We also hope the government will protect the freedom of speech of the gay community," Wang added, referring to a 2005 guilty verdict against a gay book dealer for selling pornographic magazines.
In 2005, a district court in northern Taiwan sentenced J.J. Lai, owner of a gay bookstore in Taipei, to 50 days in jail on obscenity charges in a ruling which outraged the gay community.
Lai argued that similar materials are easily available for heterosexual readers. However, his appeal was rejected by the Taiwan High Court.