Zhang Hui-Mei (also known as A-mei) is a Taiwanese pop music singer, Straight ally, and icon for the Gay community. She has achieved superstar status all over East Asia and portions of Southeast Asia. She is also known by her Taiwanese Aboriginal name: Gulilai Amit.
A-mei was born the seventh of nine siblings on August 9, 1972 in Taitung, Taiwan. From the Puyuma tribe in eastern Taiwan, she was exposed to Puyuma folk music at an early age. Her mother sang to her and her sisters, recording some songs for them on tape, and encouraged her to sing.
The Aboriginals in Taiwan have suffered a similar fate as the Native Americans in the USA and First Nations in Canada. They were treated as inferior peoples and placed on reservations. It was a major point of pride for the Aboriginal community when A-mei became a superstar, and soon she became a favorite of the LGBTQ community as well. Her very first single of the debut album Sisters was “Sisters” or “Jie Mei.” The song’s chorus, “You are my sister, you are my baby,” helped it become a Gay classic (similar to Sister Sledge’s “We are Family” in North America) with Gays singing it in karaoke discos. When asked about the Gay community’s love for her song, A-mei said she was touched that the community would choose it as an anthem.
Iconic Status, Political Controversy
A-mei was known as a diva in the Mandarin pop scene. All of her albums have sold over a million copies, and she appeared numerous magazine covers such as Time, Newsweek, and Asiaweek. She was named the most popular singer in Asia by Billboard Magazine.
A-mei raised the ire of the mainland Chinese government when she sang at the inauguration of Taiwan’s President Chen Shui Bian, who was in opposition to the eventual unification of Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. Within Taiwanese political rhetoric, there is the understanding of Taiwanese identity as unique and separate from Chinese identity, in part due to the distinct Austronesian roots of the Taiwanese Aborigine community. As a result, A-mei was boycotted for a period of time in China until she released a statement clarifying her position. Even this statement caused controversy because it was a carefully worded retraction that did not explain her particular viewpoint on the subject.
Support for the Gay Community
A-mei has been steadfast in her support of Gay rights. In a video, “Love is the Only Thing” that aired in 2004, there is a scene where people are getting ready for a wedding. It is not revealed until the last 30 seconds that two men are getting married, not a man and a woman. The video depicts the two grooms and their families openly celebrating their union. When asked about it, A-mei said that she believed that the song spoke for itself and that Gay men and Lesbians should have the right be married.
Perhaps her greatest achievement for the community is that she publicly stood with the Gay community during the 2008 Taiwan Pride celebration. A-mei plays to sold-out stadiums worldwide, yet she performed at the 2008 Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival for free. She was one reason why over 10,000 people marched in the streets.
The first parade started in 2003 and garnered 100 people or so, wearing masks to cover up their faces so that they would not shame their families. At the 2008 festival, thousands upon thousands of people did not wear masks, and they marched with banners proclaiming their pride. Visitors flew from Japan and Korea to be part of the festivities and to see A-mei. Her presence at the event catapulted it from a small political march to a worldwide pride celebration. By endorsing the event, A-mei significantly reduced the stigma associated with it.
At the event, she showed up on time, talked about the importance of being proud of one’s identity, and sang a few songs. She had front-page coverage the next day in many East Asian newspapers, which showed her proclaiming her support for the civil rights struggle.
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