LGBT in China
As the country with the largest population China is also home to the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population. Until a decade ago, the LGBT population was an invisible and hidden population in Chinese society. However, despite the fact that in 1997 a legal prosecution was repealed, discrimination against the LGBT people still exists. These people in the People’s Republic of China face legal and social challenges that are not experienced by non-LGBT residents.
Actions taken by the Chinese government to combat the discrimination towards the LGBTQ
Since 1949, homosexuality has been banned and suppressed in China. Being in a relationship with a same-sex individual was criminalized under the law of ‘hooliganism’.
However, in the early 1980s, China’s reforms and opening-up policies set in motion social and cultural changes that would lead Beijing to decriminalize homosexuality in 1997 and remove it from an official list of mental disorders in 2001. Moreover, for those who changed their gender with the help of surgery, it is now possible to officially change the gender in their identity card and passport.
China has taken an initiative towards allowing same-sex marriage, a move that could end years of discrimination, make the LGBTQ rights activists happy and give new rights to the LGBT community after years of censoring. A body of the National People’s Congress, the country’s highest legislative institution, has publicly acknowledged petitions to legalize same-sex marriage, which was considered a rare event that has sparked a national debate on a topic that was once taboo. This has created expectations that the nation controlled by the Communist Party might eventually join the rising number of countries that have passed legislation that protects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people.
However, in August 2021, a representative of the National People’s Congress had dismissed same-sex marriage as contrary to Chinese culture and stressed that China’s marriage system was based on the union of “man and woman”.
As a result of a survey, it was claimed that, in China, discrimination towards LGBT individuals in the workplace is common. Thousands of Chinese LGBT people responded that over half of them have experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This issue is a result of a lack of vigorous protections in the law for discrimination faced by the victims at the workplace.
Earlier this year, multiple media sources published the news about China’s government agenda to initiate a crackdown on tech companies, education, and pop culture. As an article in Bloomberg points out, this, however, is going to have an effect on the LGBT community in the country as well. The authorities highlighted the need to stop the feminization of men and expressed the plan to add more masculine physical activities in the school curriculum in order to grow a generation of ‘real’ men. State television is now also going to have much stricter checks on the content that is broadcast. Till recently, Chinese talent shows had male contestants dressed up in unisex clothing with heavy make-up. Now, the authorities will be much less lenient towards such content on screens. Earlier in 2016, “expression of same-sex love in films and television” was banned. Despite the ban, tech platforms still found ways to the public that longed for gender-diverse relations.
A popular Chinese male celebrity Lu Han on a commercial poster in the streets of Beijing. Source: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Furthermore, in July this year, most universities’ LGBT communities on Wechat (popular Chinese social media) were shut down permanently. Those accounts provided support to LGBT students, and among them were Peking University Colors World and Fudan University Zhihe Society.
China still has a long way to go in supporting LGBT people. Same-sex marriages are not legal, and recently more LGBT-related content in media has been censored. This, in turn, creates more suspicion towards LGBT communities. Recently, measures taken by the authorities to censor LGBT-related content in the media can be a result of its agenda to increase the population.
Anonymous (8 July 2021). “China divided as WeChat deletes LGBT accounts from platform”. BBC. Available online at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-57759480.
Baculinao, Eric (7 January 2020). “Why is China Raising the Prospect of Same-sex Marriage?” News. Available online at https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/why-china-raising-prospect-same-sex-marriage-n1109471
Culpan, Tim (18 September 2021). “China’s Crackdown Has a Straight Eye for the Queer Guy”. Bloomberg. Avaiable online at https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-09-18/china-s-crackdown-sets-sights-on-lgbtq-citizens-gamers-effeminate-men.
SRI (October 2013). “Stakeholder Submission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights in China For the 17th Session of the Universal Periodic Review”. Sexual Rights Initiative. Available online at https://uprdoc.ohchr.org/uprweb/downloadfile.aspx?filename=69&file=EnglishTranslation.
Wang, Yuanyuan & Hu, Zhinshan & Peng, Ke & Xin, Ying & Yang, Yuan & Drescher, Jack (2019). “Discrimination Against LGBT Populations in China”. Public Health. Vol. 4, No. 9. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(19)30153-7.
Wang, Yuanyuan & Hu, Zhinshan & Peng, Ke & Xin, Ying & Yang, Yuan & Drescher, Jack (2020). “Mapping Out a Spectrum of the Chinese Public’s Discrimination Toward the LGBT Community: Results from a National Survey”. BMC Public Health Vol. 20, No. 669. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-08834-y.