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Amidst Orlando Tragedy, China’s LGBT Groups Make Their Voice Heard

Jun 22, 2016
  • Mathilda Lan

    Chinese reporter with a major international media organization

Last week, nearly 200 Chinese LGBT groups issued an unforeseen joint statement in the wake of the deadly shooting at a gay club in Orlando that shocked the world.

In the statement, the Chinese LGBT community expressed condolence, solidarity to the victims, and also called for the end to “all forms of violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

“Sexual minorities hold equal human rights to the majority people, and their rights shall not be abridged due to their sexual orientations or expressions,” the statement reads.

In a country where homosexuality—while not illegal and no longer classified as a mental disease since 2001—is rarely paraded in public, this statement was particularly inspiring and encouraging to its LGBT population.

Peng Yanhui, an LGBT rights activist who organized this joint-signature, told me that he had only expected a few groups would participate in the project, and the result turned out to be a complete surprise.

“I think this in some way shows that an overwhelming population of the Chinese LGBT community was determined to make their voice heard,” Peng said.

The letter was on one hand a tribute to the victims in Orlando and a gateway for the Chinese sexual minorities to express their grief. On the other hand, it sent a strong message to the general public in China.

“Violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression occurs throughout daily life in China in varies forms, although not mass shooting, including the use of conversion therapy to “cure” gay and bisexual people, bullying of LGBTQ youth in schools, and overall discriminatory treatment,” the statement highlighted.

Last week marked an eventful week for China’s LGBT groups. Following the statement, vigils commemorating the Orlando shooting victims were held at Beijing and Shanghai’s well-known gay bars. Hundreds joined the annual weeklong gay pride festival that started in Shanghai the following Saturday.

British actor Sir Ian McKellen sent an inspiring message to those who took part in the Shanghai PRIDE through a taped video.

“I send you all my love. It will be a long march, but you will get there in the end,” he said.

Gender-neutral bathrooms have been reportedly installed in many Beijing bars the same week.

On June 14, a Beijing court once again accepted a case brought by a lesbian university student against China’s Ministry of Education over textbooks that demonize homosexuals.

Chen Qiuyan, the plaintiff first sued the Ministry in 2015 but was persuaded not to go to the court during a pretrial hearing for the case last December.

However, the vulnerable-looking but tenacious young woman didn’t give up. She sued the Ministry twice in the following six months. Chen said she would not give up the fight against textbooks that depict homosexuality as a disease.

The Chinese LGBT community has made great progress in the past two decades since the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1997, thanks to young activists fighting for more rights and pushing boundaries. Yet bias, discrimination, hatred and violence against the LGBT community remain overwhelming due to the lack of laws protecting the population.

Just a day after the Orlando shooting sent shock over the world, a Chinese gay man sued a psychiatric hospital over forced “treatment” of his “illness.”

On June 17, the first Chinese gay couple from Hunan Province fighting for the right to marry announced that their lawsuit against the local marriage registry was ultimately unsuccessful.

According to a survey published by UN Development Program in May, only 5% of China’s LGBT population live openly with sexual or gender identity. And the biggest source discrimination, rejection and abuse of all forms come from within the families.

While Peng is delighted to see fellow gay and lesbian friends trying to secure greater recognition and rights through legal means, he says there is still much room for improvement in terms of LGBT advocacy in China.

To him, it is a never-ending quest to push legislation protecting LGBT people from campus violence, hatred, discrimination in life and workplace, for them to be ultimately accepted as average people as everyone else.

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