(Illustration: Cat Jensen)
It’s been a few months now since I visited the GDi in Taichung, which means that I have been procrastinating writing about the place for an embarrassingly long time. It’s basically become part of my daily routine. The reason it’s taken so long is that I’ve been trying to think about what I learned from the whole trip, besides the obvious “queer community centres are nice places to visit”. I mean, that’s true, but it’s hardly ground-breaking.
I suppose the first thing I learned is that despite the whole gay rabbit temple expedition, I still find it mildly terrifying to ask strangers for directions to queer places. Which can be awkward when a family at brunch has noticed you looking confused, offered to help, and now is staring at you expectantly. When I eventually caved and explained where I needed to go to the waiter they flagged down for me, he not only took me into the correct building, but also into the elevator, and pressed the floor for me.
The second thing I learned was that Taichung is one of the few cities in Taiwan that has a dedicated queer community space with a social worker. So despite my constant ravings about how Taipei is so queer, in this respect, Taichung has us beat. And the space is surprisingly extensive. It includes a foyer, an office, a couple of private rooms for meetings and for HIV testing, a small library of queer books, videos and informative pamphlets, and a large open space where people can mingle. It hosts social events like potlucks and movie nights. It also has a monthly under-18 event that helps queer youth meet their peers and get advice about how to protect themselves from homophobia.
All this stuff I learned from this cool guy, who has worked at the centre for over
two and a half years, and is a very snazzy dresser.
The GDi was born of an HIV-focused gay centre called Rainbow Heaven, with the idea that the GDi would be a more general community centre and provide counselling. (No, the letters don’t stand for anything. Frankly I couldn’t get much of an idea of what the name is and/or means. All I got was that it is a translation of the Chinese name. Language barriers.) However, the GDi still does a lot of work on HIV, with 1,219 HIV tests conducted in 2016. It just so happened that when we were there a volunteer/board member of the association called Yuan-Ti Lee arrived to give his regular talk on HIV prevention. Yuan-Ti Lee, who is a professor at a medical college, has worked with Rainbow Heaven for the past seven years to reduce HIV transmission. He said they have seen very positive results from their work.
The GDi also does some activism work, though it is not their main focus. Last year they went to Taichung’s city hall and succeeded in having the rainbow flag raised for a couple of weeks to show support for marriage equality. They host a monthly meeting in which queer people tell their stories to the public, to raise awareness and build bridges between the queer and straight community. They also help organise the Taichung Pride Parade.
They have a lot of cool equal rights and marriage equality themed promotional stickers and stamps and bandanas. I shamelessly acquired at least one of each.
I’m not sure how often I personally would head to the GDi if I lived in Taichung, because it is largely a Chinese-speaking place, and I am embarrassingly deficient in that area. (Thank you to my translator, Joanna.) I understood just enough to be incredibly jealous of all the young people there. I would have killed to have something like the GDi in my coming-out stage. Instead I got a mildly homophobic student counsellor and self-loathing, which don’t come with nearly as much rainbow swag. The queers of Taichung seem to appreciate the space as well, with 14,075 visitors in 2016.
The next thing I learned is that Taichung is completely spoiled because it doesn’t have just one queer community space, it has two. Just down the hall from the GDi is “Wo Maison”, a women-only space designed by women who felt that the GDi was too focused on gay men. It has a quieter, more peaceful atmosphere, and comes with an impressive array of board games. They are separate organisations but seemed, from my questioning, to be on friendly terms. They have a Line and Facebook group if you would like to check them out.
You should be able to recognise them through this logo.
The GDi also has a Facebook group under Taichung GDi.
The final thing I learned from my trip to the GDi? When you acquire condoms with cute teddy bears and rainbows on the wrappers, you should probably make extra careful that they are not still in your bag when you go to work at a preschool the next day.
Look, they’re adorable. Tell me you wouldn’t have taken one.
(In case any of my colleagues are reading this, nothing happened, I swear. I kept my bag very firmly zipped all day.)
For those of you wondering what Taipei DOES have, I’m gonna take a moment to plug the Taipei LGBTIQ+ weekly meetup. We meet on Tuesdays at Human Space, it’s bilingual, and it’s a great place to meet people, make friends and unwind in a relaxed and queer-friendly atmosphere. It also hosts movie nights and the occasional social event. You can check it out here.
(Editing: Elyse Mark)