Chengdu, China Maintains Foothold as LGBTQ Hub

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 5, 2021

Long seen as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community, Chengdu is feeling pressure from a Communist Chinese government suppressing expressions of sexual freedom, the Hong Kong Free Press reports.

Located in central China (just under a three-hour flight from Beijing or Shanghai), Chengdu — referred to, the Free Press states, as "Gaydu" by the younger generation — is regarded as a safe space for LGBTQ people, with an abundance of gay and lesbian bars and resources for the community. China's first gay marriage — which was symbolic, as China still does not have marriage equality — took place in Chengdu in 2010.

However, in October, several of the city's bars were shuttered, and LGBTQ organizations found themselves under investigation. MC Club, wildly popular and known for hosting upwards of 1,000 customers per night, was shut down after explicit photos from the venue went viral. A local news outlet reported that rising HIV infections were the result of on-premises sauna sex parties.

Some also speculate a crackdown is because of the rising number of domestic visitors to the city due to pandemic-related international travel restrictions. Consequently, several gay venues were shut down temporarily, apparently for the sake of averting a public health crisis.

Elsewhere, HUNK, another of the city's popular gay clubs, has responded by cloaking lycra-shorts-wearing dancers in kimonos — to avoid the type of attention venues like MC Club garnered. It's this compromising approach — avoiding confrontational political statements — that many believe is what allows Chengdu to remain an LGBTQ bastion of sorts.

"People here generally don't care what your sexual orientation is," said Matthew, an activist in the city. Similarly, Ray, a teacher who relocated to Chengdu, said, "everyone in Chengdu knows I'm gay — my boss, some of my students' parents, all of my friends." Ray never felt comfortable coming out in his hometown, the northern city of Xi'an.

Instead of more prominent social and political demonstrations, LGBTQ groups in Chengdu focus their efforts on resources for those just coming out as well as psychological support and advocacy. Additionally, to be transparent, local authorities are made aware of planned events.

Meanwhile, legal rights and protections for the Chinese LGBTQ community are still lacking in many ways. As recently as 2001, being gay was still classified as a mental illness. As EDGE reported in November, an airline attendant for China Southern Airlines was fired in 2019 for being gay. In August, ShanghaiPRIDE, the longest-running annual LGBTQ festival in China, suddenly and unexpectedly canceled its event for "the safety of all involved," without any further explanation.

As the Free Press states, Chinese President Xi Jinping has "overseen a drive against anything considered antithetical to Communist Party values — leaving little room for gay pride."

Consequently, Tang Yinghong, a professor who teaches sexual psychology, contends that "these past few years, mainstream ideology became more aggressive and the LGBT community has been more marginalized." How recent activity impacts Chengdu's foothold as an LGBTQ hub remains to be seen.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.