By Wu Hsin-yun and Chiang Yi-ching, CNA staff writers
Among a list of five young leaders driving change in Asia, published on the CNN website Dec. 26, there might be one familiar face for those involved in advancing LGBT rights in Taiwan: Weng Yu-ching (翁鈺清), 24, who works at the non-profit organization Taiwan Marriage Equality Coalition.
The article described 2019 as the year of youth activism and highlighted the work of Weng, as well as activists in Hong Kong, South Korea, India, and Myanmar, who are fighting for social issues in their respective countries.
Recalling May 17, 2019, the day Taiwanese legislators passed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage, Weng said she was standing with thousands of LGBT activists, many draped in rainbow flags.
When the law was passed, the crowd erupted in cheers, Weng said. People were crying openly, and she felt "very happy and very emotional," she told CNN.
For Weng, that moment was the culmination of work undertaken by many activists who came before her and one she has contributed to through seven years of involvement.
In a recent interview with CNA, Weng said that she didn't think much about social movements or activism until she was 17 years old, when she participated in a humanities and social sciences summer camp.
Though she doesn't remember most of the classes, two experiences still stand out in her mind, Weng said. One was a visit to the Lo-Sheng Sanatorium, a long-term care facility that was designed to isolate leprosy patients from the general public, and later became the subject of heated debate when it was partially torn down to build a depot for the Taipei MRT system.
The other was a fellow participant at the camp, who on every single day held up a sign to remind everyone how long workers had been on strike at a textile corporation, Weng said.
After the summer camp ended, Weng started paying close attention to social movements in Taiwan, though it was her classmates and friends who eventually inspired her to campaign for LGBT rights.
Classmates at her all-girls high school had discussions on gender and LGBT issues, while a few of her friends had come out as gay, and shared with her the difficulties they faced, Weng said.
Inspired, she applied to volunteer at the pride parade in her hometown, Kaohsiung, and after moving to Taipei for university, volunteered at an LGBT support hotline.
When her graduation in June 2018 coincided with increased campaigning from anti-LGBT groups, who wanted to pass a proposal requiring a different law for same-sex marriage and a ban on LGBT-inclusive education in upcoming national referendums, Weng decided to make activism her full-time job.
She started working at the Taiwan Marriage Equality Coalition, an advocacy NGO, and thus began months campaigning in Taipei, New Taipei, and Keelung.
With volunteers at the organization, Weng spent hours on the streets trying to raise awareness and support for LGBT rights by engaging with strangers. Though they occasionally met fellow supporters, others would sometimes become aggressive, Weng said, or rip up their fliers in front of them.
As disheartening as these encounters were, Weng said it was nothing compared to the discriminations LGBT people face in their daily lives. She also found solace in the support of others who were fighting for the same cause.
Having experienced a resounding defeat in the 2018 referendums, followed by the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019, Weng thinks that the fight for LGBT rights is far from over, and these events were "simply the start" of a societal-wide conversation on the issues.
As she told CNN, there is still much work to be done, such as providing more resources to LGBT youths living in rural areas in Taiwan.
Nonetheless, she is extremely happy the movement has come this far, and that she has received wedding invitations from same-sex couples.
"We're the first in Asia (to legalize same-sex marriage)," Weng told CNN, "I'm very proud of my country."