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TAIWAN - Jul 19, 2003

Professor Josephine Ho, founder of the Center for the Study of Sexualities at National Central University in Taipei, is soon to be prosecuted under criminal charges as a result of actions by a right-wing coalition of Catholic and conservative groups. This backlash against Professor Ho is, no doubt, inspired by her groundbreaking work on the academic study of sexuality as well as her activism in defense of the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders; sex workers; and women during the past decade.

Taiwan's democratization has long been a source of pride for both its government and its people. Despite a general relaxation of attitudes regarding homosexuality, conservative fringe elements continue to kindle irrational fear and panic in people. "Children and juveniles will be exposed to harmful influences" has now become a slogan to restrict people's freedom of speech and thought, despite lack of any scientific basis to support their specific claims.

In April, conservative groups (including Child Protective Committee in Printed Matters, (Christian) Garden of Hope, End Child Prostitution And Trafficking Taiwan, Catholic Good Shepherd Sisters) brought certain hyperlinks on the Center's website to the attention of the general public through sensational media reportage in a concerted effort to discredit and defame Professor Josephine Ho, founder and director of the Center.

The hyperlinks in question, which lead to bestiality sites in the US, were listed at the bottom of a web page which included writings by philosopher Peter Singer and translated discussions of bestiality as a historical form of sexual practice. The bestiality topic webpage was one of the more than 40 pages (including various sexual practices such as homosexuality and fetishism) that were compiled for sexuality studies.

In response to pressure from the Ministry of Education and the University following public concern over the issue, Prof. Ho complied and removed these links from the Center’s website.

On June 23, conservative NGOs regrouped with other conservative education groups (such as Taipei City Parent and Teacher Association) in a more focused attack on Professor Ho and filed a lawsuit charging her with "propagating obscenities that corrupt traditional values and may cause a bad influence on children and juveniles." The groups also urged that she be dismissed from her teaching position because even though she removed the links she has not shown proper repentance for her actions. In the remarkably satanic words of one right-wing spokesperson, it was a case of “sacrificing a chicken to reform the monkeys.”

Prof. Ho has been targeted for a decade of sex-positive activism, including support of the social struggle of gays and lesbians, sex workers, inter-generational couples, transsexual and transgender subjects, "betel nut beauties", etc. Beginning with her rallying cry "we want orgasms not sexual harassment" at the first anti-sexual harassment march in 1994 in Taipei, Prof. Ho has been consistently effective and influential in the larger public sphere.

As a result of her efforts and her willingness to take up stigmatized subjects in the public eye, most notably the Taipei licensed prostitute’s struggle from 1997-9, and more recently the fight against police entrapment of minors and sexual services arranged over the internet, her name has actually become widely recognized in Taiwan. She has consequently also been the target of an escalating conservative backlash.

Prof. Ho has published 10 books in the fields of sexuality and education (she holds two PhDs, one in education and one in English) and is well known among Asian feminists outside of Taiwan. She is currently a visiting scholar abroad. And it has been during the course of her first prolonged absence from Taiwan that these legal prosecutions have arisen.

The legal actions against Prof. Ho have far-reaching impact on not just the teaching and research of sexuality, sexology and sexuality related issues and subjects on campus, but also on the emergent LGBT and sex workers movement in Taiwan as well as the increasing policing and censorship of sexuality on the internet. Taking recourse to legal action against one of the most outspoken advocates of sexual minorities and dissident sexualities is a clear attempt to sabotage the progress that non-normative sexual subjects in Taiwan have recently achieved. It is above all symbolic of a will to dishearten and prevent public action against sexual inequality.

An English language petition page is available online for those around the world who would like to express their support of free speech and the rights of sexual minorities in Taiwan.

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