LGBT IN CHINA: SUFFERING IN SILENCE
LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Today, gay marriage is not legal and there is no anti-discrimination protection for gay people in the workplace. An undercover film in 2015 year found Chinese doctors still offering electroshock therapy to "cure" homosexuality — even though a Beijing court had ruled against the practice. In China, homosexuality is not illegal but authorities are strict on censorship on the topic. Books and movies addressing the subject of homosexuality are routinely banned in China. Censors edited out gay references in the Oscar winning Freddie Mercury biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody", but left similar references in the movie "Green Book". Gay and lesbian bars are discreetly listed as ‘alternative’ in lifestyle publications. [Sources: Beth Timmins, BBC News, September 3, 2021; Sarah Buckley, BBC News, February 27, 2016; “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]
The mental pressure and anguish arising from the fear that their true identity in China might be discovered is often unbearable. According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality in the 1990s: The social pressure, pain, and inner conflict they suffer can be so intense that they come to consider or even attempt suicide. Of the fifty-six who responded to Hua’s article, fifteen, or more than 25 percent, mentioned suicide attempts. Of all the hopes and dreams expressed in these moving letters, three types of aspirations were outstanding. The first concerned the human rights issue - the belief that society should accept homosexuals and their right to express their sexuality without social or legal condemnation. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
The second concerned the issue of freedom to interact with other homosexuals - the wish that society would provide them with means to make contacts and form relationships, just as it does for heterosexuals. The third concerned the issue of knowledge - the wish that objective and scientific studies would be conducted and publicized in order to improve societal understanding. In twenty letters, the hope that some agency would facilitate social contacts among homosexuals took the form of a request that “Dr. Hua” or his publishers do so. In Hua’s article, two actual cases of gay life in Hubei and Shanghai had been described. All twenty letters requested the names and addresses of these two men in order to establish contact with them. Some men, though they did not use the word for “club,” expressed the wish to create this type of organization. There were eighteen letters pointing out the need for development and/or publication of more information about homosexuality.
Silence, especially a silence based on repression and enforced ignorance, must not be mistaken for approval or tolerance. When public figures do speak out on homosexuality, it is usually to condemn it. For example, in the 1990s, a famous attorney even wrote that “homosexuality... disrupts social order, invades personal privacy and rights and leads to criminal behavior.” A leading forensic psychiatrist said that “homosexuality is against social morality, interferes with social security, damages the physical and mental health of adolescents, and ought to be a crime.”
Websites and Sources: USA Today piece usatoday.com ; Sex Incidents in China zonaeuropa.com ; Sex Industry guardian.co.uk ; Chinese sex toy maker lacyshaki.en ; Books: “Sexual Life of Ancient China”, written by Robert van Gulik in the 1920s; “The Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Sex History” by Professor Liu Dalin and “Sex China Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture” by Fang-ju Juan, The Sexology Research Institute of China is at People's University in Beijing. Sex History and Literature Ancient Sex Culture China.org ; Chinese Sex Literature yellowbridge.com ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review dannyreviews.com Prostitution in China : Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog shanghaiist.com ; Homosexuality in China History of Gay life in China fordham.edu/halsall
Denial of Homosexuality in China
Another common reaction to the suggestion that homosexuality exists in China is denial. Clear evidence of the official denial of homosexuality was provided by the internationally well-known sexologist, Dr. Richard Green, the series editor of “Perspectives in Sexuality: Behavior, Research, and Therapy.” In his “Series Editor’s Comment” for Ruan’s book Sex in China: Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture, he wrote: Less than a year before the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen square, I lectured on human sexuality at Peking Union Medical College. I described my research on the nonsexual behaviors of young boys that predicted later homosexuality. I asked the physicians in the audience whether comparable childhood behaviors were found among Chinese boys. I was told that there were no homosexuals in China. (Ruan, 1991) [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
But, this official attitude of denying homosexuality in China can no longer be justified. In late 1991, officials in Shanghai, the largest city in China, recognized that there are about 10,000 homosexuals in the city. Actually, the number of homosexuals may be over 200,000, according to the World Weekly (September 1,1991). Changzheng Hospital in Tianjin, the third largest city in China, reported in a medical paper that in the past four years, out of 366 STD cases, at least 61 cases of syphilis resulted from male homosexual behavior; 80 percent of the cases involved anal sex, 10 percent oral sex, and other 10 percent anal plus oral sex. Most of the cases (80 percent) had participated in sexual activity in public toilets. More than 80 percent of their homosexual partners were strangers. Their ages ranged from 16 years to 60 years, with two thirds of the group falling between 20 and 30 years of age. Most of them were workers, some were cadres, teachers, and others. =
Yet another reaction is to admit that perhaps homosexuality does exist in China, but to insist that when it occurs, it is the result of Western influence; it was referred to as “spiritual pollution,” and “Western social diseases,” originating in “Western ideology and thoughts.” =
Gay Activism and Discrimination in China
There is still no legal protection against discrimination in China and few role models: no mainstream figures are openly gay. Official tolerance is highly variable. Activists and grassroots organizers complain of harassment by the authorities. Despite signs of growing confidence in challenging such actions — in 2009, gay men faced down police conducting a sweep of a Guangzhou park — most opt for a non-confrontational approach. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 10, 2010]
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Official tolerance has its limits. Gay publications and plays are banned, gay Web sites are occasionally blocked and those who try to advocate for greater legal protections for lesbians and gay men sometimes face harassment from the police. For years, movie buffs in Beijing have tried, and failed, to get permission for a gay film festival... China has issued a directive requiring that all new computers include filtering software to block pornographic images as well as Web sites with words like gay, lesbian and homosexuality.” Activists “fear the new rules could effectively ban online information from AIDS organizations or groups that help young people grapple with their sexual orientation.
A survey of 1,259 homosexual by Zhang Beichuan, an expert on homosexuality and AIDS at Qingdao University, found that 8.7 percent of gay men had been fired or forced to resign from their jobs after revealing the sexual preference and 4.7 percent said they felt their salary and career advancement were affected by their sexual preference. About 62 percent said they keep their sexual orientation secret in the workplace.
More organizations are being created in China that are specifically devoted to LGBT advocacy issues, and gay bars that once could only be found in bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai are increasingly opening up in smaller cities. PFLAG China was set up in 2008 and is modeled on the U.S advocacy group whose acronym stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The group’s cofounder, Hu Zhijun, also goes by the name Ah Qiang.
In June 2009, public security officials forced Wan Yanhai, a prominent advocate on gay issues, including AIDS, to leave Beijing for a week because they feared he might cause trouble during the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Sometimes I feel like we are playing a complicated game with the government, Wan said. No one knows where the line is, but we just keep pushing.
Persecution of Gays in China
It is not a crime to be gay in China but homosexuality is regarded as disgusting and decadent. Even though more and more gays are coming out in China they still risk persecution by authorities and many cases their own families. Gays in China are more concerned about getting fired, humiliated or blackmailed once their true identity is known than they are about AIDS.
A law against “hooliganism” that had been used to target gays was eliminated in 1997 and homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 2001, but some clinics still promise to “cure” people by offering conversion therapy that includes electric shocks. China does not recognize same-sex partnerships and no laws outlaw discrimination against homosexuals.
Gays complain they are harassed, detained for no reason, and beat up by police. Police in one district reportedly pressured gays into pitching in $365 a piece to buy a new squad car. Gays are often rounded up and charged as "hooligans" or for disturbing the peace. In Tianjin gays have been declared a public nuisance along with street-walking prostitutes and the government has promised to clean them up.
The award winning film “Farewell My Concubine” was banned in China, in part because it depicted homosexual love.
Stigma to Being Gay in China
Is there still a stigma attached to being gay? Marcho said, “There are still lots of people who are gay, but who can not be gay — they even get married. They get pressure from the outside world and they think that it's not normal; that “men were born to be with girls, and girls are meant to be with boys." Some people still think, even though they're gay, that it's not right, it's not natural, it's against nature. Do you think that homosexuality is generally accepted in China? " [Source: Rabio 86, FutuVision Media Pinninkatu 55 FIN-33100 Tampere Finland]
Many Chinese still find it difficult to accept homosexuality. No, no. I think there's only a small percentage of people who can accept it, but most people still can not. I still ask some people that I have just met, “What do you think of me being gay?” or maybe it's a girl who has feelings for me and I'd be like, “Look, I'm gay.” Most people, say 70 or 80 per cent, can not accept it, they're just like, “No! It's wrong!” People don't really give you a hard time. They are shy about it. They don't say, “Oh, faggot!” Are you totally open about your sexuality? Everyone I work with knows I'm gay. It's not that I tell everyone about it, but I think it's the same everywhere, like if you go on business to a meeting, you don't have to say, “Hey! I'm the manager and I'm gay!” Right? So most people know. All my friends know I'm gay.
Chinese Authorities Detain Gay Rights Protester
In May 2013, AFP reported: “A 19-year-old Chinese gay rights activist was arrested for taking part in a protest that police described as "illegal", a fellow demonstrator said. The detention came after around 100 protestors took to the streets of Changsha, in the southern province of Hunan, waving rainbow coloured flags and banners calling for an end to discrimination against gay people. A 19-year-old male organiser of the protest was detained by police the following morning, Peng Cheng, who took part in the event, told AFP. "They accused him of illegal gathering and protest," he added. [Source: Agence France-Presse, May 20, 2013]
Police in Changsha announced online that the man would be placed in "administrative detention" for 12 days for participating in an "illegal protest". "We think, according to the constitution, everybody has the freedom to express themselves... we think their punishment is unreasonable," Peng said.
“Curing” Homosexuality in China
In China homosexuality is mostly seen as a family problem. veterinarian and the executive director of Beijing's LGBT center, discussed a friend whose mother took her to a psychologist after the daughter came out. "The mom was going crazy, and really wanted to change her, but the psychologist was pretty professional and so didn't think it was a disease. The mom felt pretty helpless." Fan Popo, a 26-year-old documentary filmmaker and former executive director of the Beijing LGBT center, says some parents, lacking any basic understanding of homosexuality, will drag their kid to a doctor after he comes out. Although his parents accept his homosexuality, "I have a sister who always says to me you should go to the hospital and see if they can cure you. She thinks now medicine is very developed, and you can cure everything."
"It's less the people themselves wanting to visit clinics and get cured and more the parents after finding out their kid is gay, or wife because the husband is gay," says Wei Xiaogang, co-founder of Queer Comrades.
"Cures That Kill" is a documentary by the Chinese gay rights organization Queer Comrades a about two men struggling with their homosexuality, and the hospitals dotted around China advertising a solution. Released in the U.S. in 2011, it tells the story of A Wen, a Sichuanese photographer, and Sander Chan, an ethnic Chinese politician from Holland who spent years trying to use his belief in Christianity to exorcise his homosexuality: "I would often fast for one or two days after having a sexual fantasy, just as a reminder of what my goal is," he stoically tells the camera. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]
Isaac Stone Fish wrote in the Los Angeles Times, " A Wen's malaise was caused by a problem common with the Chinese generation growing up in the 1980s and earlier: an almost complete lack of awareness of homosexuality." "There was a guy named Jiang that I secretly loved in high school. At which point I drank a half liter of sorghum liquor. That was the first time my parents sent me to a mental institution."
Chan, whose Christian-based cure involved "praying Jesus into his past," snapped out of it not long after "sitting around a table with a group of gay Christians, and somehow the topic switched to depression, and I found out that everyone at the table had tried to commit suicide at some point." He's since happily been in relationships with men.
Now that he's moved to Beijing and met other gays, A Wen realized who he is and learned to accept his sexual orientation. The film doesn't explain how A Wen's family shifted to tolerance but shows him, his parents and his boyfriend laughing together. In the documentary Zhang warns parents against foisting these therapies on their children. "I tell them that you might turn the person into a sexless being." Pleadingly, he asks the parents, "Do you really want to deprive them of an essential experience of happiness in their life?"
Clinics “Curing” Homosexuality in China
Isaac Stone Fish wrote in Los Angeles Times, “For those willing to pay for it, some clinics offer therapy to solve a problem of filial distress.” "They get some beautiful men to walk around naked beside you, or make you watch gay porn," says Zhang Beichuan, one of China's leading experts on homosexuality, describing a practice he doesn't advocate. "The man naturally will get an erection. When his erection reaches a certain level, the instrument emits an electrical discharge, which upsets him. They repeat the process until the man doesn't get excited anymore." [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]
The consensus among the local gay community is that those on the mainland peddling cures for homosexuality, which include drug prescriptions, consultation, surgery and even electric shock , do it less out of a Christian or moral opposition to homosexuality and more out of a desire for financial gain. None of the doctors who claimed the ability to cure homosexuality were willing to cooperate with the documentary, so the moviemakers filmed a volunteer speaking with their clinics on the phone.
A representative from a clinic in the provincial capital of Taiyuan said homosexuality is a "sexual substitution problem, like boot fetishes," and refused to elaborate, citing its desire to protect "its professional secrets." "When you call as someone seeking a cure, you will make dollar signs flash in their eyes," the film quotes Fang Gang, a sexology expert, as saying.
Electro-Shock Gay Conversion Therapy in China
According to the South China Morning Post: “Conversion therapy has more than a century of history around the world, but has fallen out of favour with medical authorities. Nonetheless the lucrative industry persists in countries from Singapore to Britain and the United States – where reports of electro-shock use have added to momentum for a ban.” [Source: South China Morning Post, July 31, 2014 /^]
In July 2014, the South China Morning Post reported: “A Beijing court began hearing a landmark case on “gay conversion” treatment as an activist in a nurse’s uniform knelt over a patient, wielding a giant needle, outside. “Homosexuality doesn’t need to be cured!” chanted about a dozen supporters. “Haidian Court, oppose conversion therapy!” Homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in China in 2001 but widespread intolerance toward gays and lesbians remains, and activists hailed the unprecedented case as a significant step forward. /^\
“The plaintiff, who is gay and has given his name only as Xiao Zhen, says the Xinyu Piaoxiang clinic in Chongqing traumatised him when he was electro-shocked after being told to have sexual thoughts involving men. He is also taking action against China’s top internet search engine, Baidu, for running advertisements by the facility. Those who come out to friends and family in China often face significant pressure to undergo sexuality “treatment” or marry a partner of the opposite sex. /^\
“It’s the first case about anti-conversion therapy in China,” said Xiao Tie, 28, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, which is backing the legal action. “In China, most people who undergo ‘conversion therapy’ do so because they are pressured by their family. Parents, once they realise their child is gay, urge him or her to go to a psychiatric hospital or undergo treatment,” she said. Most people who claim that they have been successfully “converted” by the therapy only say so in order to stop the distressing treatments, she added. /^\
“Zhang Rui, 21, who is in charge of the Beijing LGBT Centre’s psychological counselling programme, said advocates hope the case will help change Chinese public perceptions of gays as suffering from mental illness. “We’re here to tell even more people that conversion therapy is not scientific,” she said. “Homosexuality can’t be ‘cured.’” /^\
Image Sources: Wikipedia
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021