China: Progress on LGBTI rights. But more to do

Public opinion shifting to accept LGBTI people & equal rights


London & Beijing – 26 July 2016


Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, writes:

LGBTI rights in China are moving in the right direction, slowly. The country’s ancient history and literature is scattered with references to gay men, such as Emperor Ai who, legend has it, cut off his sleeve rather than wake his male lover during the Han dynasty (206BC to AD220).

However, homosexuality was stigmatised after the communist revolution in 1949, largely because it was associated with western decadence. The Ministry of Health only removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. Shanghai has held an annual Pride celebration since 2009; although not a march – marches are frowned upon by the state authorities.

According to the SOGIE research published earlier this year, 56% of Chinese lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people have experienced discrimination in the family, 39% at school and 21% in the workplace.

On the upside, around 70% of the Chinese public surveyed do not support the pathological view of homosexuality and stereotype-based prejudices against LGBTI people. A similar proportion believe the law should protect sexual and gender minorities and that minorities should be entitled to social services and economic rights, including insurance benefits for same-sex partners (see the survey summary and link below).

“The survey paints a country in transition, where the majority of people do not hold negative nor stereotypical views of LGBTI people, with young people being more open towards, and accepting of, sexual and gender diversity,” notes Ying Xin, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre.

“The report suggests that this, in many ways, represents an important opportunity for LGBTI people and depicts a society that could achieve rapid and profound change…. The report recommends that this is why education and evidence-based information, including more realistic portrayals of sexual diversity in the media, have a pivotal role to play going forward,” said Ying.

Indeed, these more positive public attitudes coincide with the way negative, stereotyping and disrespectful media coverage of LGBTI people is less common than it was a few years ago.

“In 2012 we only had 365 reports on LGBTI issues in the media. But in 2015 we had 867 reports. It has increased a lot. And the reports are also more objective, more positive,” says Xiaogang Wei, co-founder of China’s Rainbow Media Awards, and executive director of the NGO, Beijing Gender Health Education Institute.

In July 2011 Chinese news anchor Qiu Qiming shocked the country by going off-script to stand up for gay rights. “The sexual orientation of certain people in our midst are different from the rest of us,” said the presenter on the state broadcaster CCTV. “But they are also diligently contributing to society. Gay people, like us, have the right to exist and develop themselves in society, and this right should not be overtaken by any other concept.”

Wei reports that while coverage of LGBTI issues is getting more frequent and positive, it still needs to be more diverse. “LGBT reports have seen a lot of improvement,” he says. “But there’s more to do. We might have gay or lesbian people in the media – but not transgender, intersex, bisexual or queer people. There are still a lot of things that need to be more reported on, so (that) there are more voices.”

LGBTI people are winning increased legal recognition in China, as well as media coverage. A series of lawsuits have brought publicity and energy to the fight for LGBTI rights, although the court wins are largely symbolic. From 1 May last year, new legislation means it is now easier to sue in China.

LGBTI rights activists are using the new rules to their advantage. A gay couple sued for the right to get married and last August student Chen Qiuyan sued about the continuing description of homosexuality as a mental disorder in some university textbooks.

“Of course it’s great for LGBT organisations to use the law in a positive way,” says Wei. “At least now that we know that if we sue the Chinese government, you might win.”

Filmmaker and LGBTI activist Popo Fan sued the state authorities for taking down his documentary Mama Rainbow from the internet. He won his case last December but the film is still unavailable to see online on Chinese hosting sites.

You can view the trailer here:

Watch this terrific extended interview with Popo Fan about growing up gay in China and the struggle for LGBTI rights there:

Decisive action from the Chinese authorities for LGBT equality may be lacking, but judges are hearing cases, and messages are getting out in the media about LGBT people and their battle for equal rights – prompting a positive shift in public opinion.

• The above information includes excerpts from an article by Anna Leach that was first published in The Guardian:

Being LGBTI in China: A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE) 2016


Sexual and gender minorities still have extremely low visibility in Chinese society. Only around 5% of them choose to disclose their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression at school, in the workplace or in the religious communities. More are choosing to come out to their close family members, but still no more than 15% have the courage to do so.

Over half of sexual and gender minority people report having been unfairly treated or discriminated against. The family is the place where rejection and discrimination occur most frequently, followed by schools and the workplace. Discrimination continues to cost LGBTI people jobs, lower their career prospects and their learning potential in schools. Sexual and gender minorities suffer from lower job stability and higher unemployment rates.

Physical and emotional violence is still a reality, especially within the family. Most respondents admit to submitting to family pressures to marry and have children. While many enter into heterosexual relationships, some choose “cooperation marriages” (with LGBTI members of the opposite-sex). Family pressure and rejection can have more serious consequences, with some LGBTI people turning to psychotherapy and sometimes even ‘conversion therapy’.

Unfortunately, the majority of sexual and gender minority people still make a direct correlation between coming out and experiencing discrimination. This is the reason why so very few LGBTIs decide to be open.

Over 70% of Chinese sexual and gender minority people have been emotionally troubled by their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Discrimination and depression, however, do not affect all LGBTI people in the same way. Trans people face the greatest forms and levels of discrimination, whether within the family, in school or in employment. Lesbians are more likely to be discriminated or rejected at home and in the workplace, whereas gay men are more likely to be discriminated against in schools and become victims of bullying.

All sexual and gender minorities, however, share concerns about discriminatory health and social services. The majority of LGBTIs question the reach and accessibility of HIV prevention and treatment services and the quality and friendliness of psychosocial and counselling services.

The Chinese public who were surveyed are generally open and accepting in their attitude towards sexual diversity. The overwhelming majority (70%) do not support the pathological view of homosexuality and stereotype-based prejudices against LGBTI people.

Non-LGBTI respondents are increasingly in favor of equal rights policies that recognise and protect sexual and gender minorities. Over 70% believe that minorities should be entitled to social services and economic rights, including the same insurance benefits for same-sex partners.

Of those who support LGBTI rights, nearly 85% support the legalisation of same-sex marriage. In addition, over 80% believe that the law should clearly state that the rights of sexual minorities are protected.

There is a clear age-based difference in public opinion, with young people being more open towards, and accepting of, sexual and gender diversity. The younger the respondents, the higher the proportion of those opposed to the pathological view of homosexuality, stereotype-based prejudices, gender binary ideas and HIV-related stigma. Younger respondents are the highest proportion of those who would accept their own children being LGBTI.

Overall, it is clear that generational change represents the greatest opportunity for the social emancipation of sexual and gender minorities in China.

Read the full SOGIE report: