China’s LGBT activists break away from Western agenda, bring their own experience to the world

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/24 19:09:30

Chinese LGBT groups are active in Africa, Japan, South Korea for empowerment drive

○ A growing number of Chinese LGBT groups are making a presence on the world stage

○ Meanwhile, China's LGBT environment remains sensitive

○ Many Chinese gay people do not feel that the Western LGBT agenda is suitable for China

A Chinese activist waves the national flag at a Gay Pride parade in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo: VCG

Ripley keeps track of the daily LGBT news from around the world. Wherever and whenever a large event for her cause takes place and requires her support, she will quietly add her name to the list of China's LGBT people joining in the international outcry.

Her recent attentions were given to an alleged shocking anti-gay campaign in Chechnya and a wave of horrible arrests and raids in Egypt after gay-pride rainbow flags were raised at a concert by Hamed Sinno, an openly gay Lebanese singer.

After these events were exposed in media outlets, Ripley immediately noticed that some gay activists in China were collecting signatures. "This is a new phenomenon. It's to show solidarity and deliver a message from China, which is important," she said.

Ripley identifies as "queer" and works for Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, a Chinese NGO dedicated to improving public awareness of LGBT people.

Like Ripley, today, a growing number of Chinese LGBT groups and related NGOs are making a more noteworthy presence on the world stage. In addition to their signatures, many also provide training courses for foreign LGBT groups to "impart Chinese experiences in the LGBT movement," as well as actively participate in the world LGBT agenda.

"It is a new era for China's LGBT groups. In the beginning we only cared about HIV/AIDS prevention so our motivation to go out to the world stage wasn't strong. But now our concerns are more diversified, which require more international communications," said Ah Qiang, a well-known gay rights activist and founder of PFLAG China, an NGO focusing on helping parents of gay men.

"Besides, China's LGBT activists' abilities have grown and many young people who have studied abroad participate in our movement now, thus making the overall movement more international," Ah Qiang added.

Coming out

Ah Qiang stressed to the Global Times that the recent wave of "coming out" on the world stage has new characteristics. Different from being a passive receiver of Western experiences in the past, he finds what they've learned in China can be a good reference for other countries in East and Southeast Asia and even Africa.

These regions, according to him, either share a similar cultural background with China or are presently experiencing the development phases that China has already been through.

Ah Qiang's NGO now trains LGBT activists in South Korea and Japan how to help parents of gay people accept their children's sexuality and encourage them to stand out and support them publicly.

"They're also influenced by Confucianism (which advocates strong piety values). Children in these countries face similar pressures as us when disclosing their true sexuality to their parents. So our experiences are more useful than Western ones, which are more about using demonstrations to fight for their rights," he said.

He added that he was shocked when he first heard that there are no full-time jobs in Japan's LGBT NGOs. "This is like our past stage. We're now much advanced than them," he said.

Wei Jiangang, director of Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, opened Queer University in Africa in 2017, which empowers local LGBT people by teaching them how to shoot documentaries. Last November, two documentaries were finished and shown on Beijing screens, including one that tells how a lesbian comes "out of the closet" in a small African village.

"Queer University was quite successful. This year we plan to open it in Ghana," Wei revealed.

"An important reason that we go out to embrace a larger stage is because the outside world now pays more attention to China's LGBT development. On many occasions, we are invited by them to make a voice and contributions," Wei told the Global Times.


A second choice?

For Ripley, however, it requires more wisdom when participating in these international events.

"You need to be careful what can be done and what can't be done as well as what can be said and what can't be said on the world stage. You should be wary of not angering the government, who cares about its international reputation," she said.

According to her, some people make use of international platforms such as the United Nations to make appeals and suggestions on some world LGBT agendas, like discrimination in the workplace. This in turn brings international attention to China's LGBT environment, which sometimes leads to positive changes.

"You need to stay on alert high when doing these things. This could become quite tricky and political," she warned.

For other LGBT activists and groups, coming out is an "alternative" choice, as the past year was far more complicated and challenging than before for gay people to express themselves.

In May of 2017, an event in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, at which gay opinion leaders were about to make inspirational speeches to encourage other peers, was cancelled. Speak Out, the gay rights NGO that organized the event, made an announcement later, claiming that they'd prepared the event three months in advance, but an unnamed authority had kept some of its staff members for eight hours.

"We don't know what has happened. Different people give us different explanations and I can't trust them," the announcement said.

During the same month, 11 mothers of gay men went to People's Park, a popular matchmaking spot in Shanghai, to find life partners for their children but were asked to leave by local police, who said they hadn't registered in advance, news portal reported.

In September, Yilutongxing, a popular gay web forum in China which has existed for nearly two decades, shut down with all its content deleted. In June of the same year, China Netcasting Service Association (CNSA) set a new standard which bans nine categories of content that are deemed to be "obscene and vulgar," including homosexuality.

Under this atmosphere, John, who used to work for Beijing LGBT Center, chose to apply for a scholarship to study in the UK last year, which he hopes can bring him some new inspiration on "where to go next."

"This is an indirect path to realize my goal," John told the Global Times. In the UK, he participates in seminars and meetings to communicate with others about what he has done back in China. He is also considering building a network to provide useful lessons he's learned to other LGBT people in developing countries.

Wei said that, over the past year, the coverage of LGBT topics in China's domestic media outlets shrank sharply. Yet both him and Ah Qiang stressed that the whole situation "isn't as bad" as many people think.

"Coming out is not an indirect path for China's LGBT movement. We're actually doing things now in China and the whole situation is improving," said Ah Qiang.

Breaking Western myths

John initially planned to derive more nourishment from developed Western nations to explore a new option for China's LGBT scene, but as it turned out he found that many of his early beliefs about the Western way were mere myths.

At one sharing meeting, a man from England asked John whether he should ask the UK government to press the Chinese government to make changes, as he believed all LGBT people in China live in "extreme misery."

"What he said shocked me. They're so arrogant about China's situation. We're not that miserable, and their way of dealing with things would only have an adverse effect," he said. "They only care about superficial things. When it goes deep, they don't bother to care anymore."

John is also contemplating whether too much interference by foreign organizations in China's LGBT movement would be truly useful.

Previously, foreign organizations were getting in touch with China's LGBT NGOs, but after the Law on Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernment Organizations in the Mainland of China took effect, it became harder to obtain financial support from them, according to John.

"We need to have a new, more localized way to do things," he said.

Peng Xiaohui, a sexologist at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei Province, told the Global Times in a previous report that "LGBTQ groups should be independent of foreign political groups or foundations while claiming their rights."

After last year's study at Harvard, Ah Qiang said that his attitude toward Western methods and organizations has also changed.

"Some [Western organizations] give us money and want to control our agenda. But they are totally blind to the real situations in China. For instance, some say they patron us for intersex people in China, as this is now a hot topic in their countries. They have no idea that, back in China, we are still fighting for gay men's rights. We're in different development phases," he said.

During the coming out process, Ah Qiang said it's important to know what should be preserved rather than being led by others. He also feels it is necessary to construct a new discourse system.

Instead of using the Western discourse system, which the Chinese government doesn't understand, expressions like "family health" and "society harmony" should be addressed, Ah Qiang said.

Newspaper headline: Riding the rainbow

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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