Precarious Progress: Advocating for LGBT Equality in China

By Darius Longarino

“Precarious Progress: Advocacy for the Human Rights of LGBT People in China” explores the relationship between law and the lives of LGBT people in China, and the Chinese LGBT movement’s efforts to make law a force for greater equality rather than one that entrenches stigma. 

The LGBT community in China has experienced a period of tremendous change. Over the course of the past several decades, LGBT people have gone from being nearly invisible in Chinese society, to forming a vibrant social movement. Once focused on grassroots community building and service, China’s LGBT movement is increasingly reaching beyond the realms of LGBT communities, striving to make society as a whole more inclusive through advocacy. 

Progress has been promising, but remains precarious. Discrimination and state repression are still pervasive, and advocates must navigate treacherous and ever-changing political waters. Strings of news celebrating progress – a court ruling against a clinic offering so-called conversion therapy, a campaign going viral, are punctuated by setbacks — the police detaining activists and shutting down events, censors removing online content, and policymakers snubbing calls for equality. Developments have been rapid, and full of twists and turns. 

Yet, on balance, China’s LGBT movement continues forward, building visibility and gaining support. Surveys show increasing acceptance of LGBT people among younger generations, views of pro-LGBT social media hashtags have reached into the hundreds of millions several times (though are often censored shortly after), and LGBT plaintiffs have won pioneering rights litigation in court. Whether state decision makers will pursue policies to protect the equal rights for LGBT people in the coming years and decades will come down to a mix of ideology, pragmatism, and public pressure.

LGBT advocates are striving to turn that calculus in their favor, and, facing the long and rough road ahead, remain hopeful.