LGBT activists are the unsung heroes on the frontlines of China’s fight against COVID-19 - Part 2

We are a part of the community and the community is a part of us (read part 1 here)

We don’t live in a silo, we are a part of the larger community and nation. Our lives are intertwined, even though we are minorities,” said Stephanie from the bisexual group r&B based in Guangzhou.

As the severity of the coronavirus swept across the nation, Chinese citizens were simultaneously making the journey back to their hometowns to celebrate Chinese New Year with families and friends. Often deemed the largest human migration, three billion trips by road, air, and rail were made across the country to observe the start of the Year of the Rat on January 24, 2020.  

In light of the spreading virus, this migration posed huge risks. Worried and eager for news, people flooded social media on their mobile phones to absorb information before it got deleted by state censors. In the meantime, LGBT activists rallied together to protect not only the LGBT community, but the broader community everyone is part of. 

On the morning of January 25, LGBT activists from the Beijing LGBT Center, the Changsha marriage equality campaign, the r&B bisexual group, and the Guangzhou LGBTI Rights Advocacy China, among others, gathered in chat groups to discuss the unfolding crisis. They decided that in order to reduce the possibility of the coronavirus traveling to all parts of China, they had to stop the travel expected after the end of the public holiday on January 30. Addressing the need for more hands on deck, by 11 A.M., the group had called and gathered 100 activists through their networks. By 1 P.M., the group came up with a plan and organized themselves into five different task forces.

The plan was to start a 48-hour campaign through social media platforms such as Wechat, Weibo, and Douban, and mobilize 100,000 persons to lobby for the extension of the public holiday so that workers can delay their return to work. A how-to toolkit was designed and written for the campaign which consisted of two Wechat articles on why the delay is necessary and three campaign posters. Netizens on social media reacted quickly when the WeChat articles were released, garnering a readership of 500,000 collectively and directing readers to provide feedback on the coronavirus website provided by congress.

Xinying, one of the activists, said, “We knew that the only way to extend the holidays was to get [the] central government to issue an order. In Chinese society, this is the only and quickest way to get businesses and government officials to toe the line.”

At the crack of dawn on January 26, congress released a statement that public holidays would be extended until February 2. Elated that they were being heard, activists wondered if a three-day delay would solve the problem. Determined to keep pushing, they released a second round of articles advocating for a further extension of the public holidays. By this time, the entire country was rocked by images leaked from Wuhan on the condition of hospitals and the rising number of deaths. Sensing the urgency of the matter, more people started taking action by joining the campaign and writing to congress. On January 28, articles by the group were read two million times. The campaign generated a debate on worker rights and garnered traction for a mass movement, pushing the government to do more. By January 31, the central government said that the public holiday will again be extended until February 10, and that companies must comply.

“We have to do something as LGBT activists. We’ve gained a lot of experience navigating the system. We knew what to do and how to mobilize, and it was time to use it. After all, we are a part of the community and the community is a part of us. We have to work together and make sure that we all survive,” Stephanie said.