Inspired by US court, student reveals sexuality during graduation

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-10 5:03:01

Wan Qing holds up a rainbow flag after the graduation ceremony. Photo: Chen Yin

At her graduation ceremony on July 4, Wan Qing made an unprecedented gesture. Wearing a rainbow flag, she announced to all present that she is a lesbian and sought the university president's support, causing a great sensation on Chinese social media.

As she received her diploma from university president Luo Jun, the 22-year-old asked him to follow her in making a clenched fist gesture to encourage solidarity with the LGBT community. The president agreed and embraced her, according to pictures Wan uploaded that evening to her Weibo microblog.

Along with the photos, she stated on her Weibo that she is a lesbian. "I hope sex and passion between women will be recognized. I hope the legalization of same-sex marriage is not the end but a starting point for equal rights," she added.

Wan, a journalism major from the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-Sen University (SYSU) in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, was inspired to make her declaration after the US Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Her story and the pictures of her gesture were widely circulated and reported on forums and media.

The attention from the public doesn't bother her, but she is worried about how her relatives will react. "I hadn't expected so much attention," Wan told the Global Times, saying that she has no idea whether her family has heard about her announcement or not. "I haven't ever seriously talked with them about my sexual orientation. I plan to do that in a few days after I return home."

But so far, her parents and brother, a high school student, haven't asked her about it, she said.

Discovering her identity

Wan didn't realize she was a lesbian until she went to college. On November 11, 2011, two months after she entered SYSU, she went to listen to a public lecture by Wu Youjian, the mother of a homosexual and a well-known gay rights activist. At the lecture, she learned about LGBT people and that the rainbow was their symbol.

In high school, she had felt a deep affection for one girl but didn't think of it as having anything to do with sex. She even had a boyfriend, though she found that it was difficult for her to become intimate with him.

In college, by reading books, going to lectures and joining in with LGBT activities, she realized that she was a lesbian.

"Declaring my identity at the graduation ceremony was a spontaneous expression of the feelings I felt in my four years at college. I became aware of my own identity during this time. I just wanted to hold a ritual to end this period," Wan said.

Although she had never received any formal education about LGBT issues before going to college, Wan said she had access to material about homosexuality when she was a teenager.

"In junior high school, novels about same-sex romance were popular among girls in dormitories, and I was a fan too," Wan said. Despite enjoying these novels, she was shocked when she discovered two female schoolmates kissing.

Wan explained that she plans to never marry and prefers the idea of an open relationship, in which intimacy with a number of people is accepted. "I think marriage is a kind of one-on-one control and binding," she said.

Civil rights activism

In college, Wan joined a campus feminist drama group and an LGBT society called Rainbow Group.

But her interests were not limited to women's and sexual minorities' issues. In April 2014, she went to report on the large-scale protest against a PX plant in Maoming, Guangdong.

In June that year, she wrote letters to environmental authorities, asking them to publicize the environmental impact assessment of a large mineral water producer.

In June, her graduation piece The Blind Don't Do Massage, a 50-minute film on visually impaired masseurs which condemned workplace discrimination against the disabled, earned praise from her supervisors.

"I'm not sure where I got such an enthusiasm for civil rights activities, but I have been making complaints since primary school," Wan said.

Born into a well-off family in Chongqing, Wan said her parents were never strict with her. She was independent and bold. At the age of 10, she wrote to her primary school headmaster demanding that the number of dustbins be increased and the playground rebuilt.

Gradually, she discovered a passion for news. She loved reading newspapers which specialized in uncovering social problems and injustice.

Divided opinion

Wan's declaration received lots of praise, but also drew a great deal of controversy. Netizens posted tens of thousand of comments to her Weibo. Some praised her courage and expressed support, while others accused her of morally kidnapping the university president.

She explained that she never intended to force the president to show support for LGBT people.

"I made the decision [to announce her homosexuality] on the bus on the way to school, just two hours before the start of the ceremony," she said. "Then I called a friend and went to fetch the rainbow flag we made for volunteer activities."

"A couple of students who were about to get married also walked up to the president to seek his blessing. It's the same show of natural emotions, but why is a homosexual's action moral kidnapping?" she questioned.

The case also pushed the university into the spotlight. While many lauded its openness and inclusiveness, the ban it issued to students forbidding discussion of the case left some people confused.

Sun, leader of the SYSU Rainbow Group, said Wan's declaration was encouraging and has helped increase public awareness of homosexuality.

"The news spread so widely. Even my aunt in a remote county has read it and asked me what 'coming out of the closet' means," Sun said.

It will likely trigger similar actions in the future and her group, which now has about 50 members, is expected to grow next semester, she said.

Instead of finding a job, Wan said she is preparing to establish an independent image workshop in Guangzhou, focusing on the issues she is concerned about. "Profit is not the target. Realizing self-worth is important," she said. With years of voluntary work behind her, she said several NGOs and individuals are willing to sponsor her startup.

Newspaper headline: Out in the Open

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