Amid both controversy and celebration, Hsu Yousheng (許佑生) married his American partner, Gray Harriman, on November 11th, 1996 in Taipei, marking Taiwan’s first public gay wedding. While highly celebrated, the marriage did not become official until Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in 2019. “Not Simply a Wedding Banquet (不只是喜宴),” a film directed by Mickey Chen (陳俊志) and Mia Chen (陳明秀), documented this milestone in Taiwanese LGBTQ+ history. The film not only gives viewers a look into Hsu and Harriman’s wedding but also explores the experiences and struggles of a broader group of queer Taiwanese.
“Not Simply a Wedding Banquet” profiled a series of people who shared their coming-out stories and spoke about the challenges of living in Taiwan as a member of the LGBTQ+ community at the time. Even within their own families, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ population often struggled to find acceptance because their identity did not conform to traditional expectations. For one man featured in the documentary, his mom cried loudly and his dad declared that they would take him to see a psychiatrist when he revealed his sexuality.
Luckily, as an uncloseted gay activist and writer, Hsu did not feel the same pressure to avoid the public wedding ceremony that he had always dreamed of. His parents had passed away early, and his sister accepted his sexuality. However, he had faced his share of struggles in the past. With a very traditional mindset, Hsu’s had sister struggled to understand, let alone accept, the fact that her brother was gay. Gradually, she came to accept his sexual preference, seeking out news about gay issues and reading letters from her brother’s gay readers. At Hsu’s 1996 wedding, his sister fully supported him.
Many of the wedding’s attendees recognized Hsu’s privilege. One man interviewed in the film expressed his doubts about the impact of Hsu’s highly-publicized wedding. He claimed that, for a gay Taiwanese to get married, they must fulfill four requirements: travel to New York, meet a Westerner, have deceased parents, and work in a “gay-friendly” industry such as media. Acknowledging the difficulty of meeting all of these criteria, he feared that, even with Hsu’s wedding as a model, most gays in Taiwan would not follow similar paths. Other criticisms of this first public gay wedding revolved around the fact that the wedding did not qualify under Taiwanese law and that one of the grooms was a Westerner.
Despite these concerns, the majority of people profiled in “Not Simply a Wedding Banquet” recognize the excitement of the landmark occasion. For one lesbian, the wedding’s details and imperfections did not matter. “When you can see in the newspaper that two gay men are getting married, more or less, you will still feel very happy,” she commented.
Conflicting opinions regarding the gay wedding circulated outside of the LGBTQ+ community as well. While attracting high-profile guests and significant media attention, the event also sparked a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. At the end of “Not Simply a Wedding Banquet,” the film shows a news channel reporting that the percentage of poll respondents who stated that they would not accept gays increased from approximately 60% to approximately 80%. Even the documentary itself faced backlash, including a local campaign to ban the film.
Since the release of “Not Simply a Wedding Banquet” in 1997, the LGBTQ rights movement in Taiwan has come a long way. Widely known as LGBTQ+ friendly, Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize gay marriage, and the annual Taiwan Pride Parade remains the largest LGBTQ+ pride event in Asia. Although the island’s LGBTQ+ community has garnered increasing support over the past decades, many people in both Taiwan and other countries still face the same pressures and fears as in the late 20th century. Shedding light on these challenges, “Not Simply a Wedding Banquet” reminds viewers of the importance of continuing to push for LGBTQ+ rights.