China: Progress on LGBT Visibility Amidst Government Restrictions

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in China face censorship by the authorities and are subject to laws that curb their freedom to live openly and participate freely in public life. LGBT groups are often not able to register and receive funding. They lack safe spaces to gather or hold public events. Despite these conditions, LGBT activists and their supporters have made considerable progress in increasing LGBT visibility in China. IGLHRC supports the courage, work and persistence of our Chinese partners in their struggles for and successes in achieving human rights for LGBT people in their country. The following examples provide a glimpse at the work being undertaken at various levels of society.

Family and Friends of Tongzhi

LGBT people in China face enormous pressure from society and government to conform and many are forced to to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity from their families, frequently remaining closeted for their entire lives. Some LGBT people leave home and friends to relocate to another city or province so they can live more openly and honestly. In response to the lack of family support for LGBT people, some parents have formed an organization, Qinyou Hui (family and friends of Tongzhi), modeled after Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in the United States.

Founded by parents who make public appearances to advocate for acceptance of LGBT family members, China's Tongzhi Qinyou Hui reaches out to parents of LGBT people, provides support to families and friends, and encourages open discussion of issues that affect LGBT people's lives in China.

First Visual Art Exhibition on Gender Diversity

Police in China often raid events, including exhibitions and lectures that focus on anything related to sexuality and gender, frequently subjecting event organizers to intense police scrutiny. Out of necessity, LGBT-related events are often held in secluded venues and advertised only by word of mouth.

On June 14, 2009, during Gay Pride Month, China's first visual art exhibition on gender diversity titled, "Difference Gender" was successfully unveiled in the Songzhuang Art District of Beijing. Nearly 500 people attended, most of whom took a two-hour bus ride to the art venue to celebrate and support the artists and their work.

The day before the opening, state authorities ordered the venue to be closed down, claiming that the exhibit showcased "the improper subject of homosexuality" and contained some "pornographic" artwork. However, many prominent artists, activists and lawyers came forward to negotiate with Chinese authorities for the reopening of the exhibition.

Xu Bin of Common Language, a Beijing-based organization of lesbians, bisexual women and transgender (LBT) people that co-organized the event, remarked "It was the confidence and courage of the younger generation of China's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community and their insistence that the art exhibit was the right thing to do that helped produce a triumphant result."

Domestic Violence Survey

In collaboration with the government–funded Women's Federation of China, Common Language conducted a domestic violence survey that examined the prevalence of discrimination and violence experienced by lesbians in China. The study, which included 400 physical survey respondents, 500 online respondents, and 13 in-depth case studies, found that 50 percent of lesbians face family violence and 90 percent of lesbians above age 25 were forced to marry a heterosexual partner.

The survey's findings alerted LBT groups about the need for empowerment programs that would help LBT women in China have increased options to stop the violence in their lives, overcome isolation, and find safe alternatives.

Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Women Loving Transgender People (Lala)

Lala is an accepted local identity embraced by Chinese-speaking communities from Mainland China, Taiwan-Province of China, Hong Kong-Province of China, and the United States. It is an umbrella term for lesbians, bisexual women, and women-loving transgender (LBT) people.

In 2007, a coalition comprising Common Language in Beijing, the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan, the Women's Coalition of Hong Kong, and Institute for Tongzhi Studies in New York organized the first Lala Camp for activists to empower grassroots Lala groups and promote cross-country collaboration among Lala communities. Since then, a thriving network of grassroots LBT groups has been launched in several cities beyond the capital of Beijing, including, Shanghai and Chengdu.

In 2008, a second Lala Camp called "Lala Connect" was organized to reach out to LBT groups in the five regions of Mainland China—Anshan, Kunming, Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai. It resulted in the formation of the Chinese Lala Alliance (CLA), comprising Chinese LBT leadership from the five regions, with the aim of sharing resources and developing the capacity of LBT groups in as many cities as possible in Mainland China.

In 2009, the CLA organized a LaLa Camp, "Youth Power" which convened over 50 LBT youth organizers from 20 Lala organizations in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the US. Participants explored questions about their identities, ways to access the region's wider LBT community, and opportunities for participating in each other's Pride and other coordinated public LGBT events.