China tiptoes out of the closet, gently



Shanghai in 2009 | Nir Elias/Reuters | 14153

Despite ten years of Chinese citizen petitions for same-sex marriage, the Chinese government has never responded with a public statement. Recent developments suggest that the Chinese government policy on homosexuality is being relaxed, but in reality no official policy exists. Harassment might be on the decline, but LGBT rights are still ignored on a political level.

China’s landmarks are the 1997 decriminalization of ‘hooliganism’, which was widely assumed to include homosexuality, although the law was never explicit, and the 2001 decision to remove homosexuality from the list of mental diseases.

Since 1993 Renowned sociologist and activist Li Yinhe has repeatedly tried to have homosexuality legalised but his attempts have never been met by sufficient support of parliamentary representatives to pass the threshold of 30 votes for becoming a proposal.

Attitudes remain deeply conservative and traditional. There is a big gap between those who participate in the activities of LGBT organizations, who are often aware of and sympathetic towards international debates on gay rights, and other gays and lesbians, simply living in other parts of Chinese society. Wei Wei, a scholar who does in-depth fieldwork, talked to ‘non-active’ gay men and found that, even when they have same-sex partners, many consider marriage as something that could and should only be between men and women.

Many gays prefer not to initiate a confrontation with their families. Their parents might actually know or suspect they are in a same-sex relationship, but as long as it remains unsaid, no social taboos are violated. So they bring home their partner to celebrate Chinese New Year, as “their best friend.”



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