TAIPEI (Reuters) -An estimated 180,000 people marched through Taipei on Saturday in a riotous and noisy celebration of LGBTQ+ equality and diversity at east Asia's largest Pride march, with Vice President Lai Ching-te becoming the most senior government leader ever to attend.
The event took place ahead of Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections in January, and Lai, leading opinion polls to be elected president, joined the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) delegation, seeking to cement its position as a defender of liberal values.
Lai, speaking to reporters before joining the march around its midway stage, thanked those who had worked to support equality and the legalising of same sex marriage in 2019, which President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP championed.
"On this road the DPP has always been together with everyone," he said, as scantily clad male dancers passed behind him on the back of a truck.
"Equal marriage is not the end - it's the starting point for diversity. I will stand steadfast on this path."
Lai then joined the DPP delegation, marching behind a banner reading "Democracy Supports Gays" as supporters yelled out "Hello Mr President".
None of the other three presidential candidates attended, although the youth wing of the main opposition Kuomintang party did, with its members shouting that their party also supported equality as they passed by Lai.
The streets of central Taipei were packed for the annual parade, the 21st since it began and including go-go dancers and drag queens.
Organisers put the number of attendees at around 176,000, the official Central News Agency reported, including many foreigners.
"Under the umbrella of Taiwan's democracy and freedom, we learn to accept everyone's characteristics and respect everyone's differences," Tsai wrote in a Facebook message.
Taiwan's openness on LGBTQ+ issues stands in marked contrast with its giant neighbour China, which claims the island as its own territory.
While same sex relations are not illegal in China, same sex marriage is, and the government has been cracking down on activists and depictions of LGBTQ+ people in the media.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mike Harrison)