THOUSANDS of gay pilgrims are converging on Taiwan to pray at a temple to the Chinese "Rabbit God" of homosexuality.
Taiwan is leading the way in LGBTIQ rights in Asia. In January, a new president came into office promising to support same-sex marriage.
Beyond marriage equality, Taiwan has distinguished itself from its neighbors in relation to a variety of LGBTIQ rights issues. Taipei hosts the largest pride parade in the region, attracting 80,000 participants, including a range of politicians from across the political spectrum.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression has been prohibited in education since 2003, while employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been prohibited since 2007.
And ... a Taoist temple in Taiwan is attracting throngs of gay worshippers looking for blessings and for a suitable partner.
The Wei-ming temple in Tapei draws 9,000 pilgrims a year, looking for priest Lu Wei-ming (shown above and at left) to perform a love ceremony for them.
"This was a group with no one to look after them, and I wanted to fill that void," says 28-year-old Lu, who took a vow of celibacy and won't discuss his sexuality.
He opened the temple in 2006 and dedicated it to Tu Er Shen, or the Rabbit God ... "Rabbit" being a historical slur for homosexuals in China.
Just as Antinous the Gay God is being re-discovered in the West, Hu Tianbao alias Tu Er Shen the "Rabbit God" is being rediscovered by Chinese gay people.
Incredibly, both deities involve young gay men who were in love with men of high standing ... and who died tragically ... and who became gods of the spiritual essence of homosexuality.
Antinous is a true-life historical figure, of course, but his Chinese counterpart is shrouded in myth and legend ... involving rabbits.
According to Zi Bu Yu (子不語), a book written by Yuan Mei (袁枚, a Qing dynasty writer), Tu Er Shen (兔兒神 or 兔神) was a mortal man called Hu Tianbao (胡天保).
Hu Tianbao fell in love with a very handsome imperial inspector of Fujian Province. One day Hu Tianbao was caught peeping on the inspector through a toilet wall, at which point he came out to the other man. To save face, the imperial inspector had no choice but to have Hu Tianbao beaten to death.
One month after Hu Tianbao's death, he is said to have appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream, claiming that since his crime was one of love, the gods decided to right the injustice by appointing him the god and safeguarder of homosexual affections.
After his dream the man erected a shrine to Hu Tianbao, which became very popular in Fujian province, so much so that in late Qing times, the cult of Hu Tianbao was suppressed by the homophobic Qing government.
A slang term for homosexuals in late imperial China was Tuzi (兔子) (bunnies) which is why Hu Tianbao is referred to as the RABBIT GOD, although in fact he has nothing to do with rabbits and should not be confused with TU-ER-YE (兔儿爷） the famous "Rabbit in the Moon" which is the Chinese version of the "Man in the Moon".
However, the rabbit association stuck, and even today his devotees portray him with rabbit ears and make offerings of carrots to his altars. The handsome statuette in this image is lovingly clothed in a rabbit-fur cloak.
While no one knows if gays in mainland China worship him ... the temple in Yonghe city (永和市）in Taiwan venerates Hu Tianbao, alias Tu Er Shen. The temple is known as the RABBIT TEMPLE (兔兒廟). The address is Taipei, Yonghe City, Yonghe Road Section 1, Alley 37, No 12.