How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a federal ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, members of the LGBT community gathered around the world for Pride parades last weekend in remembrance of the 1969 Stonewall riots. Amid these signs of a long-overdue shift in the global acceptance of LGBT culture, ChinaFile asks two China-watchers how accepting gay culture would change the country:

[Steven Jiang]: […]It would restore China to its full glory of the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), when an emperor famously cut off his sleeve rather than disturbing his sleeping male lover, turning the phrase “passion of the cut sleeve” to a poetic term to describe homosexuality.

Facetious answer aside, many experts have pointed out that historically China has been a relatively accepting place for homosexuality due to the lack of religious condemnation. Some of the nation’s best-known literary classics contain detailed references to gay culture.

[…]Public intolerance of homosexuality seems to be a more recent phenomenon, especially after the post-1949 Communist government denounced it as a feudal and bourgeois decadence. Adopting a puritanical moral code, the authorities have in the past listed homosexuality as a mental disorder and prosecuted gay people under the crime of hooliganism. Now no longer a crime or disease, homosexuality has nonetheless remained a sensitive topic in the eye of the government. State broadcaster CCTV, for instance, censored remarks by Ang Lee and Sean Pennduring their Oscar acceptance speeches for two gay-themed movies. Police sometimes shut down gay venues and events with little advance warnings.[…]  [Source]

Tea Leaf Nation contributor Fei Wang (who also participated in the ChinaFile conversation linked above) has posted a detailed history of LGBT rights in China, noting that while many hurdles still exist, China’s LGBT community is gradually gaining societal acceptance:

Gradually, support from parents is raising awareness and changing the landscape of the LGBT community in China, and the expansion of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in China (PFLAG China) is playing a significant role. Wu Youjian, founder of PFLAG China and the first mother to publicly support her gay son in the media, recently organized an online discussion of xinghun. Most participants seemed to think that even though xinghun might be an act of compromise, it was still a lie that required too much effort to keep up. One discussion participant remarked, “Coming out of the closet is respect for your partner and your parents.”

According to a recent report released by Xinhua News on June 27, women in homo-marriages are building an alliance online with the hopes of making the public more aware of the community. As understanding and acceptance from parents increase, homosexual individuals are becoming more comfortable with their sexual orientation and rejecting the options of homo-marriages and cooperative marriages.

There are many issues left to be resolved: the legality of same sex marriage, the right to adopt for same sex couples, and the continued need to improve AIDS prevention. In a recent online poll entitled “If you were the secretary-general of the United Nations,” the UN asked Weibo users to choose up to three issues they considered “most important,” and ending discrimination against the LGBT community topped the chart, followed by poverty eradication and international peace and security. In a February 2013 poll of Sina Weibo users, the majority favored amending China’s Marriage Law to allow for same-sex marriage. [Source]

The Economist has more on changing public opinion towards homosexuality in China, and on the challenges that still remain:

For the most part, public attitudes are changing for the better. To most urban youth, homosexuality is just another part of society. There are decriminalised gay bars and club nights in cities across China. The closing ceremony of the Queer Film Festival was attended by a handful of “gay mamas”, there to support their children. In addition to such celebratory events and festivals, there is a growing number of LGBT community and advocacy groups.

In one high-rise building in eastern Beijing, six such organisations have come together. The LGBT Centre organises events and offers psychological training and support. Aibai is a media and advocacy enterprise. Tongyu promotes lesbian and trans-sexual issues. The Beijing Gender Health Education Institute organises the “Rainbow Awards” for Chinese media and a training course called “QueerUniversity”. There is also a separate health organisation, and a monthly magazine called Gay Spot.

Such efforts remain semi-underground, however. “LGBT is still very sensitive, you have to be careful in China,” said Wei Xiaogang, the director of Queer Comrades, a non-profit LGBT webcast (the Chinese word for “comrade” is urban slang for gay, which might be awkward for some cadres). Ultimately the greatest difficulty they face has less to do with bigotry than with the fact that they are trying to form organisations that might draw large numbers of people together on the basis of shared interests: always a problem in China. As Yang Yang, organiser of the Queer Film Festival put it, “everything is political”. [Source]

In February, the majority of respondents to a Sina poll showed support for same-sex marriage. Also see prior CDT coverage of homosexuality and gay rights, including “Divorce, Marriage and What it Means to be Gay in China.”

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