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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Tai


Updated: Jul 26, 2022

What makes visibility so important to the LGBTQ+ community?

Picture by me, at the 2019 Taiwan LGBT+ Pride Parade


Article Overview


Earlier last month was the launch of Rainbow Families’ Love and Acceptance exhibition in Singapore, a project raising visibility for the country’s local queer community through a showcase of Singapore’s LGBTQ+ family photos from the Rainbow Families photoshoot. Redefining the traditional narratives of family and love in the country’s fight for greater sociopolitical inclusion of queer Singaporeans, the exhibition was an incredibly inspiring step in the country’s LGBTQ+ movement. So knowing that my timely arrival in Singapore this late June would meet the opening of the exhibition, I made it my first plan post-landing to pay a visit, not foreseeing what would become a sudden turn of events: an R18 rating.

In light of the recent events surrounding Hwa Chong Institution’s homophobic sexuality education lesson and the IMDA’s NC16 rating for Pixar’s Lightyear citing homosexual content, it began to dawn on me that the R18 rating for this family-friendly exhibition wasn’t just a standalone incident: in the grander scheme of things, I have come to witness an issue of LGBTQ+ censorship and media restriction in Singapore.

Despite the growing sociocultural acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community as with the recent discourse surrounding the Repeal 377A movement, accessibility to LGBTQ+ friendly content and media remains tight for the country’s youth demographic. And in the face of a pledge for justice and equality, the stagnancy concerning queer visibility in public society is becoming more and more frustrating.

So what makes visibility so important for the LGBTQ+ community, and what role does it play in queer activism?

The Importance of LGBTQ+ Visibility

Picture Source: Chelsea Stahl, NBC News

LGBTQ+ visibility can come in many forms, from positive representation in the media, public events celebrating queer identities, and even through LGBTQ+ inclusion in educational spaces and institutions. At first glance, these efforts to normalize queer identities might not seem like much, but the power they hold in shifting social perceptions and lobbying for LGBTQ+ rights remains an underestimated part of queer activism around the world.

Discussing the role of LGBTQ+ visibility in activism, let us look at one of the most prominent examples of its visibility today in the annual pride festivals: Pride Parades.

"What is the purpose of a pride parade?"

This was the question posed at my first info session as a volunteer for the 2022 Taiwan LGBT+ Pride Parade. Three years back and I would have been stumped by this question. Fast forward to 17-year-old me, the reasons for Pride just seem to go on and on.

My first Pride Parade was at the 2019 Taiwan LGBT+ Pride Parade themed Together Make Taiwan Better, the first of the annual celebration following Taiwan’s passage of same-sex marriage earlier that year in May. Being 14 and oblivious to the history of pride parades, I didn’t really know what I was there for, and funny enough, I don’t think I was the only one. My mother, who was almost fully supportive of me and my friends attending Pride, raised her single concern with a “how come there are so many shirtless guys there?”, and it wasn’t until the day after that we found out one of our dads had hidden behind bushes to follow us there. It seemed as if everyone had gotten the point wrong. None of us knew why we were going, but it didn’t take long for us to learn what Pride was all about.

Protests: From Stonewall to Pride

Picture Source: Diana Davies, The New York Public Library

The origin of pride parades begins with the Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969. As a response to the ongoing police raids in gay bars throughout New York City, the series of protests culminating in an uprising at Stonewall Inn would soon be coined as the first Pride Parade in history. As the month of June, often referred to as Pride Month, continues to commemorate the efforts of the Stonewall Rioters more than half a century ago, we must not forget that this movement for love and equality remains a fight still fought today.

That day at the 2019 Taiwan LGBT+ Pride parade, it became clear to us what pride parades were meant for. From flags to placards, pleads and pledges to protect trans kids, to fight the stigma around HIV, end even in the name Together Make Taiwan Better, continue to echo the voices of the rioters back then. That day, I saw how Pride Parades are more than symbols of strength, perseverance, and pride, but stand as a manifestation of those symbols through solidarity, action, and activism.

Social Consciousness and Political Action

In addition to raising social consciousness around LGBTQ+ issues and normalizing LGBTQ+ presence in society, studies have statistically shown that pride events play a major role in increasing social acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals. Additionally, year-to-year themes and goals surrounding current events about LGBTQ+ rights have shown to catalyze sociopolitical progress over the years. From organized groups battling the AIDS crisis, to efforts advocating against LGBTQ+ censorship laws, the results of greater LGBTQ+ visibility in public life have become evident in the changes in legislature and sociocultural settings.

In a 2021 research paper published to the Cambridge University Press, investigating the impacts of Pride marches on local LGBTQ+ social acceptance, the community sampled saw a 9% increase in strong support and 10% decrease in strong opposition for LGBT activism following the local Pride march.

Better yet, this phenomena of growing acceptance isn’t just apparent with Pride marches, and is becoming more and more evident with LGBTQ+ inclusive advertisements, LGBTQ+ public figures, and media representation. In a 2019 study conducted by GLAAD in collaboration with P&G, LGBTQ+ visibility in the media is shown to play a significant role in increasing social acceptance of sexual and gender diversity and public support for LGBTQ+ equal rights. Through well-represented queer characters in movies, TV shows, and books etc., not only do LGBTQ+ people feel more seen in the media they consume, but stands as an opportunity to catalyze greater social support for LGBTQ+ rights and activism.

With an increased social acceptance of LGBTQ+ issues, an expanding pro-LGBTQ+ voting base might also mean an increased political inclusion of LGBTQ+ rights and unique needs. Being able to see the scale of their LGBTQ+ voting base through pride events (which are often the sight of political campaigns), media representation, and other means of LGBTQ+ visibility might also be a factor to influence pro-LGBTQ+ campaigns for greater protection and legal inclusion.

Self-Acceptance and Fighting Stigma

Picture: Episode 4 of It's a Sin (2021) / Source: Ben Blackall, Channel 4

The role of LGBTQ+ visibility in breaking social stigma around taboo conversations about LGBTQ+ issues continues to be a vital force behind self-acceptance in LGBTQ+ individuals.

In Russell T. Davies’ 2021 drama series It’s a Sin, the show’s vivid portrayal of solidarity amidst the queer community’s fight against AIDS not only won public accolades for its celebration of queer history in a light of empowerment, but for the huge surge it had caused in the UK’s HIV testing following the show’s debut earlier that year.

Through representation and visibility, whether it be from media visibility or Pride Parades, queer identities get to see themselves represented in a positive light, allowing them to shift their own perceptions of queerness and identity through self-acceptance and to embrace themselves in a way of love.

A Work in Progress

Despite the significant progress the LGBTQ+ community has seen with visibility, it remains a reality that being out to the world isn’t something everyone can afford, and that makes Pride all the more important. As with the Love and Acceptance exhibition, raising visibility for the queer community stands as an indispensable channel to fuel greater social momentum and political progress in the near future. From voices of the #fixschoolsnotstudents movement to efforts fighting LGBTQ+ censorship around the world, queer visibility continues to be a vital catalyst to realize a pledge for justice and equality, shirtless or not.



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