LGBTQ Life in China: Slow Advancements But Room For Improvements

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 22, 2020

A global progress report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World) finds that LGBTQ people in China have gained some legal rights and protections, according to South China Morning Post.

The Post points to the first same-sex couple in Beijing named legal guardians of one another after being married overseas in mid-2019. To date, about ten Chinese LGBTQ couples in cities such as Shanghai and Chengdu have also been named as such. However, the couples shared with the Post that the process could be laborious, with multiple meetings with lawyers over contract details. Recent years have also seen the development of laws protecting LGBTQ employees. Hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai now offer "medical support for the transgender community," the Post states.

Xin Ying, executive director of the Beijing LGBTQ Centre, said, "China's situation isn't the worst in Asia, but it still has room for improvement. Compared with countries where being LGBTQ is still a criminal offense, in China they can live in disguise."

While homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, same-sex consensual sex was considered "hooliganism" and punishable by imprisonment and even execution. Even with some changes for the better, there are still textbooks that list homosexuality as a mental disorder, a disease that "goes against the laws of nature."

In China, there are still no legal protections for, or recognition of, the LGBTQ community, the Post reports. LGBTQ activist organizations still encounter problems registering with the government. Culturally, LGBTQ characters and storylines can be removed from television shows and movies or banned entirely. In 2015, the government instituted a ban on content expressing or displaying "abnormal sexual relations or sexual behavior, such as homosexuality."

Where health and safety issues are concerned, conversion therapy is still a legally viable practice in China despite the wealth of scientific studies debunking it psychologically harmful. Because of government control over information, it is unknown how many LGBTQ people in China have been subject to conversion therapy.

Last month, EDGE reported on an instance in which a gay Chinese airline attendant filed suit against China Southern Airlines — owned by the Chinese government — over his firing for being gay. The man, who goes by his surname Chai, said, "I don't want there to be anyone else like me who will be treated in this way. I think I really represent a very, very common worker, but just one who happens to be a sexual minority. We shouldn't be discriminated against, we shouldn't be oppressed and receive this unfair treatment, that's why I am protesting."

More broadly, the ILGA report finds that in at least 42 countries — including China, Russia and Ethiopia —legal barriers prevent LGBTQ freedom of expression. Additionally, laws have been passed disallowing the "formation, establishment or registration" of LGBTQ organizations in 51 countries, such as Singapore, Belarus, Fiji and more.

In 70 countries, same-sex activity is still illegal and even punishable by death, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Brunei, where the Sultan's late son identified as gay. As the Post points out, all of these are members of the United Nations. Perhaps, in this instance, united only in their discriminatory policies.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.