Stigmas push gay people into parenthood rather than revealing sexual orientation
Although attitudes are improving, gay people in China still face huge barriers
Members of gay rights group LGBT Rights Advocacy China hold signs beside a protest doll outside a clinic in Beijing which offers “sexual reorientation” services in the belief they can cure homosexuality. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP
Glossy wedding photographs adorn the wall in the Yanzhi bar in West Jiefang Street in Changsha, where young women are drinking cocktails and cans of German beer.
In this gay bar, you are just as likely to hear references to “comrade” as you are at a Communist Party meeting – “comrade” is common slang for “homosexual”.
“We want to get married,” says Lala. “That picture of that couple, the one with the tuxedo and the wedding dress, that will be us next year, I hope.” Her partner Luo Dan looks on proudly.
Changsha is Chairman Mao Zedong’s ancestral home, a booming metropolis in southern China. Jiefang means “liberation” and this street is a liberated urban experience. Changsha is a party city, where people from the farmlands nearby come to relax.
Lala and Luo Dan opened Yanzhi bar over a year ago and have been a couple for three months. They say attitudes are improving on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, even in provincial China.
“Three years ago, when people on the street saw us dress like a boy, they would curse at us that we were not a girl or a boy. They talked bad about us. But now, lesbians are more common and people don’t do that any more. The situation is better,” says Luo.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997 and in the early 2000s, it was removed from the list of mental illnesses. However the deeply held Chinese belief that children are required to marry and bear offspring to continue the family line means it is still heavily stigmatised.
Every year, at China’s rubber- stamp parliament the National People’s Congress, the outspoken sex education advocate and sexual equality activist Li Yinhe calls for more gay rights. Every year she is forced to leave the parliament empty-handed.
“We still face big social pressure. It will take China many, many years to legalise gay marriage,” she says.
The Hunan province civil affairs department recently described homosexuality as being “against spiritual civilisation construction” and “in violation of morals”.
“Gays should have the same rights as any other citizens, including the right to marry,” says Xiao Han, head of the Changsha Comrades Association. “The civil affairs ministry says being gay is immoral. Most Chinese people think the same, so we face a lot of pressure.”
In May last year, Xiao (19) was detained for organising a gay pride parade.
The reason he was given was that he had not obtained the necessary permits to hold such an event. He was jailed for 12 days but he insists he had followed the letter of the law and had even sought legal advice.