Lesbians’ Proposal Fans Fear of “Foreign Forces”

A couple recently attempted to use their college graduation as an opportunity to protest for inclusion by publicly staging a marriage proposal, and Chinese media took note. The university’s reaction served to expose the deep-rooted homophobia of the university leadership and the sensitivity of China’s censors, and also highlighted the tendency for Party officials to represent social activism as being orchestrated by “hostile foreign forces.” Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam reports:

A recent incident shows how fear of homosexuality and fear of foreign forces is sometimes intertwined in China.

On June 21, a lesbian couple from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies had a romantic public proposal after their graduation ceremony. Very quickly, photos of their passionate kisses and news about the proposal went viral on Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo. People praised the public display of love and gave them their blessings.

But later that same day, the Wechat public account of a Guangzhou-based group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people called Girlfriend was taken down permanently by censors because of their coverage of this public proposal. A post on Weibo relating the same news published by a Guangzhou-based feminist group called Women Awakening was also deleted.

One of the newly engaged women, Wang Xiaoyu, was threatened by the deputy secretary of the university’s Chinese Communist Party committee that she would face disciplinary action for “misbehavior.” Wang wrote a post on feminist group Gender in China’s blog on June 28 recounting what she went through after the public proposal: […] [Source]

The Global Voices post continues to include excerpts from Wang’s explanation of the incident, as well as examples of support offered by LGBT activists online. CDT has translated Wang’s entire explanation, including her appeal to the university:

My name is Wang Xiaoyu, and I’m a lesbian. My girlfriend and I are both 2016 graduates of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. We decided to take the opportunity provided by our graduation ceremony to publicly come out of the closet by getting engaged, so that our dear friends in sexual minorities on our campus could be seen, discussed, and considered, in an effort to create a more open and diverse campus environment.

At noon on June 21, at the gate to GDUFS Yunshan Student Dorm No. 1, my girlfriend held flowers in her hands as she knelt down on one knee to ask me to marry her. We hugged and shared a long kiss. Classmates of mine who were present at the time expressed their congratulations, which moved me. Later, some Chinese media reported on it.

We initially thought that was as far as it would go. However, things progressed much further than we ever could have imagined. I was threatened with disciplinary action, my diploma was suspended, I was labeled as “missing,” and my rented home was intruded upon. I don’t understand it. How is it that we’ve been forced to endure this much, simply because we’re lesbians?

“Don’t accept media interviews, don’t mention that you’re GDUFS students, avoid giving people a negative impression”

Not long after all this erupted, Deputy Secretary Du from my university’s Communist Party Committee was frantically trying to find me to talk, hoping I would keep quiet toward the media on this matter, and not create a “negative impression” of my school. “You must protect yourself, and not allow yourself to be harmed by the media.” She was concerned about the attention I would receive from the “heartless” “foreign media” and “foreign influences,” and how they would take advantage of me.

The school not only required me to contact the media to delete articles, but it also put into motion a few “measures.” Within hours of the event, a thread on the Sina microblog @新媒体女性 (Women’s Awakening), which had reposted the news of our engagement, was deleted, and the public WeChat handle for Guangdong’s lesbian organization, “Girlfriend Group,” was permanently locked (its new handle is girlfans2009GZ).

Secretary Du explained it to me like this: “There are lots of gays, and no one discriminates against them, because they’ve managed it well. They keep it from impacting others, and they also don’t cause any harm to others.”

During the 50th anniversary celebration for my school last year, fifty straight GDUFS couples held a joint wedding ceremony, and at what point did we question if their event might “cause harm to others”? Can’t we say we’re from GDUFS? Is a lifetime of GDUFS pride a feeling that only belongs to straight couples?

How did the expression of love between gay partners become so undesirable, let alone downright harmful to others? By drawing a line between public and private venues for expression of gay love, what they’re actually doing is transferring a doctrine much like “women should not leave the home and be seen in public” onto gays, emphasizing that sexual minorities can only express themselves and their desires in private, and have no right to do so in public places.

“Your behavior may result in disciplinary action, and we must first suspend your diploma.”

On the afternoon of June 22, which was originally supposed to be my last day on campus, I had planned to pick up my diploma and then say farewell to my alma mater. During our talk that afternoon, however, Secretary Du suspended my diploma. She said that my behavior was believed to be in violation of policy, and that the university policy violation committee members needed to be informed so that they could examine the situation and decide how to handle it. In the Student Manual’s “Regulations Regarding Punishment for Policy Violations”, she underlined the following:

Article 3, Section 11 (4): “Posting, delivering, or distributing messages containing obscene material, destructive rumors, defamation of an individual’s character, or propaganda damaging the school’s reputation creates a negative impression and is punishable with a mark on the student’s record or more severe disciplinary action.”

Article 17 (10): “Students who behave recklessly in public and resist correction will be given a warning or more severe punishment. Those who clothe themselves incompletely or in filthy attire while in public places or at public events and who resist correction will be given a warning as punishment.”

On June 25, Secretary Liu from the university sent a written notification via WeChat to my father as a reminder to pick up my diploma. Yet it wasn’t until I called my adviser to ask about it that I myself received the reminder to pick up my degree certificate. According to Civil Law and the school’s related regulations, if I’m not located in the area, I can sign a permission form to have someone else pick it up, but on June 27, when I suggested to my adviser that I would entrust a fellow student to pick it up while I was not in the area, this was denied.

I scheduled a time with my adviser to pick up my diploma, but at noon he changed his mind and said that my parents needed to be present when I picked it up, “to bear witness to your upright behavior.” As for what “bearing witness to upright behavior” meant, my advisor was vague in his description.

In order to obtain my diploma, my parents and I all had to take time off to go pick it up at the school. I felt truly exhausted. When straight couples get engaged, they are congratulated, but when gay couples get engaged their graduation certificates are taken away?

After I left the closet, there was a strange incident involving an intrusion into my home.

At noon on June 22, my parents separately received many phone calls from Secretary Du, who told them she couldn’t find me, and said to “look it up in the news.” And just like that, before I’d had the chance to prepare my parents emotionally, I was outed.

Secretary Du surmised that someone had manipulated me into doing this, and that it was quite possible that I was being “controlled by an organization with an ulterior motive.” Our performance art had not occurred during my graduation ceremony but rather after it, so the school thought that it had successfully prevented us from “causing a scene” and had control of the situation. But they were still nervously keeping an eye on me, and requested that my parents make me tell them what organization was behind it. They also wanted to make sure that I “didn’t go to my girlfriend’s graduation ceremony to ‘cause a scene’.” Originally I was supposed to leave on an official business trip the following day, so I wasn’t planning on attending her graduation ceremony, since nobody proposes twice anyway.

On one side, my parents were facing a daughter who couldn’t provide sufficient information, and on the other side, they were facing a university secretary who had a wealth of social resources and many years of work experience. Naturally they chose to trust the judgment of the latter. Therefore, they could not digest the news about my orientation and my gay romantic relationship, or the shock that my public announcement caused them. They were simply distressed about my personal safety and freedom. That night at 10:30, in their anxiety, they issued an ultimatum, telling me to cancel my trip and quit my job, and to return home immediately.

The following day I was supposed to leave for the business trip, something I’d told my family about a month and a half earlier, so I didn’t agree to my parents’ terms. I sent them a long text message, saying “Since I was little, you taught me to a responsible person, so I can’t leave my job the night before I’m supposed to go on a business trip.” I also suggested that we take a couple days to cool off before talking things through. After giving my parents my close friend’s contact information in a voicemail, I changed cellphone cards, and hoped that I could temporarily escape the exhausting telephone stalemate. Then I went to my close friend’s house to spend the night.

That night, Secretary Du told my parents that she definitely needed to meet with me in person. Early the next day, she again contacted my family members, who had been waiting by the door all night. Then she and Secretary Liu from the university rushed to my home. When they saw that it was after 7 a.m. and I still hadn’t come out, they suspected that I was possibly “under the control of an organization.” The two university secretaries and my family unanimously decided to report it to the police, claiming that “I had gone missing.”

The police arrived quickly, and my landlord was also asked to have the door to my home opened. The police, my mother, and the secretaries entered my home together. The secretaries made my mother help them search for “partner information” and “organization information.” Secretary Du used her cellphone to take pictures of whatever she believed to be “useful evidence,” and then she reported it back to the school.

However, when I was on my way to the business trip destination, I thought it over and decided that communication with my parents was more important, and I worried about their health. Finally, I once I had received approval from my work unit, I gave up the business trip. It wasn’t until later that I learned that if I had continued with the trip the day after the proposal, the school would have confirmed that I had “foreign forces” behind me, and the four years I spent studying for my degree would have been in vain. I wouldn’t have been able to get my diploma, and I would have become a classic cautionary tale in GDUFS history.

Secretary Du informed my parents in all seriousness that my participation in illegal, improper activities would have a serious impact on my future prospects. She said that I was once an outstanding student, but later a huge shift occurred. At that point, my communicating to my parents that I had given up my business trip was redefined as a “plot twist,” and she added that “the situation was successfully controlled and nipped in the bud while still in the early stages.” However, what she didn’t realize was that things had not developed in the direction of her rich imagination, and while this was a huge accomplishment for her, it was a source of major trauma and negative consequences in my life.

After Secretary Du began taking the initiative in telling my family that “I was being controlled by an illegal organization,” I got stuck in non-confrontational but ineffective communication with my parents, and was powerless against the pressure they put on me. This ultimately destroyed the trust between me and my family, which lead to me being forced to leave the safe and comfortable home that I had been gradually creating over the last two months.

Currently, my emotional state is severely impacted by this matter. I can’t be alone, I’m very depressed, and I often can’t stop crying. My normal work routine and social life have been impacted. I believe that Communist Party Committee Deputy Secretary Du Huanjun from the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies Advanced Translation Institute is primarily responsible for my current state.

My girlfriend has experienced similar harassment from the school.

After the incident, the school also repeatedly questioned my girlfriend. Her graduation ceremony was on June 23, the day after our proposal. Her adviser delicately conveyed the message that she shouldn’t attend the graduation ceremony. Later, in order to “understand the facts” and “issue the graduation certificate,” the adviser asked multiple rounds of questions. In the most entertaining phone call, the adviser said, “I’ve heard some rumors, and was wondering if you can help clear them up if they’re not true,” then asked three questions:

“Do you live together?”

“In your relationship, what role do you play? Dominant or submissive?”

“I heard that your last relationship just ended a little while ago, so when exactly did this one start?”

When my girlfriend pointed out that calling at 9 p.m. to ask if she was dominant or submissive was extremely impolite, the adviser recognized this impropriety, and hung up the phone. This incident reveals the reality of the adviser’s disregard for the boundaries of the student privacy, and it also shows a lack of knowledge of LGBT issues. Even when it comes to heterosexuality, the presupposition of active and passive roles is just a stereotype.

At present, I’m presenting the following appeal to the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies and its related organizations, and the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies Advanced Translation Institute:

  1. I request a public apology from the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies Advanced Translation Institute Communist Party Committee Deputy Secretary Du Huanjun for the harm she has caused me and my family.
  2. I request that the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies Advanced Translation Institute Communist Party Committee and related organizations at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies reexamine and publicly announce their resolution of issues related to different treatment of students with other sexual orientations.
  3. I request that the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies Advanced Translation Institute Communist Party Committee and related organizations at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies reexamine and publicly announce their resolution of issues related to different treatment of students with other sexual orientations.
  4. I request that every institute, labor organization, teacher development center, and related teacher and staff event organizations and units at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies hold at least two training sessions on sexual diversity and equality per year for teachers and staff.
  5. I request that Guangdong University of Foreign Studies establish a supervisory committee on homophobic educational content and educational practices, to investigate and resolve instances of homophobic educational content on campus.
  6. I request that the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies Youth League Committee allow the establishment of student clubs related to sexuality and gender, and approve events related to sexual diversity and equality to be held on campus.

Throughout this process, the school has attempted to insert me into the narrative of how “the school used parental love and care to rescue the wayward youth who mistakenly went down the wrong path” and to cover up the harm caused by the school staff’s behavior toward me and my family. I am making this matter public with the hope that GDUFS’s mistreatment of sexual minority students will stop here. [Chinese]

In April, a Chinese court ruled against a gay couple attempting to sue the Changsha civil affairs bureau for denying them a marriage license. The couple vowed to appeal the ruling. Their case, along with other recent landmark court and arbitration cases involving members of the LGBT community, has done much to galvanize public support for LGBT rights in China.

Translation by Heidi.