Gay rights have come a long way in the mainland since homosexuality was a crime, until 1997, or classified as a mental illness, until 2001.
Last month, Beijing hosted its second annual conference for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists. This year’s event not only attracted twice as many delegates, but – for the first time – funding of more than US$ 30,000 (HK$232,600) from a joint US-United Nations initiative to improve gay rights in Asia. It also had the approval of Chinese government departments and the China Family Planning Association.
This year’s conference drew more than 140 delegates from 28 regions in the mainland – including Tibet and Xinjiang – plus a small number from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the UK and the US.
The event, on August 17-18, was organised for the second year running by the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute.
“This is actually quite astonishing,” said a woman who used to be a lesbian group organiser in Beijing but now studies in Hong Kong. “A few years ago, police would intimidate and disperse volunteers just for setting up an information booth.”
The regional initiative, called “Being LGBT in Asia,” was launched in late 2012 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) to study and support LGBT rights in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia.
It set up an office in Beijing in April and has already secured support from several government bodies.
“We received support from Supreme People’s Court, China Family Planning Association (CFPA), and the Central Party School. Three officials attended a community consultation we held on August 16,” said Xu Wenxu, a UN human rights officer.
“The situation is better but LGBT issues are still sensitive, so we are quite low-key about our public events,” said Wei Xiaogang , director of the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute. “We didn’t invite local and foreign media to cover the conference.”
This year’s conference focused on discussing how to recognise diversity within the diverse LGBT community so it could better champion the rights of all LGBT people to the public. But recognition and resources has come to some groups faster than others.
“There are zero bisexual or transgender organisations in China,” lamented conference participant Ripley Wong, a 28-year-old transgender man from Fujian.
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