Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

China’s LGBT community sees trouble and hope at rainbow’s end

By Joanna Chiu  /  AFP, BEIJING

When two women wearing rainbow badges were beaten up by security guards in an arty part of Beijing last month, social media users quickly jumped in to fight their corner.

China’s LGBT community might not get much support from authorities, but in a sign of growing tolerance in Chinese society, people are using the power of hashtag campaigns to denounce attacks on gays and lesbians.

The two women were walking in Beijing’s trendy “798” district days before the May 17 International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia when they were suddenly surrounded and beaten by a group of black-clad security guards.

A video showing one of the women being knocked to the ground went viral online under the hashtag #798beating, with users expressing their outrage over the violence.

Days later, the security company apologized to the women and promised to dismiss three guards, prominent activist Lu Pin (呂頻) said.

The public shaming and subsequent apology came weeks after China’s Sina Weibo microblogging platform faced intense criticism for censoring gay content, with the hashtag #IamGay viewed 240 million times.

Sina Weibo reversed course within days — an unusual concession for the social network.

In another incident that caused an online storm, a man in Chengdu said his boss had punched his mother and used a homophobic slur against him after she had confronted the executive for sacking her son.

The groundswell of public support for the LGBT community might have alarmed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities, said Borge Bakke, a criminologist and researcher at Australian National University.

“[Chinese] President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) regime is very nervous about everything. So they are cracking down on LGBT events, not particularly because these people are gay, but because they see their organizing as a potential threat,” the China specialist said.

The Canadian embassy in Beijing last month flew two large rainbow flags in solidarity with the global LGBT rights movement, but outside diplomatic property, displaying the banner is not so easy in a country where homosexuality was still considered a crime 21 years ago and a mental illness until 2001.

Some groups have kept gay-themed events low-key until the government’s position on LGBT organizing becomes clearer.

Only about a dozen advocates met to mark the anti-homophobia awareness day on May 17 at a restaurant in Beijing, where they took pictures holding rainbow stickers and shared them online.

Earlier that day, Li Maizi (李麥子), a prominent rights activist, said she was simply walking with rainbow stickers on her cheeks — also in the 798 art zone — when two security guards began to follow her.

“They only backed away when I looked one in the eye and asked if there was a problem,” she said.

Despite these recent controversies, Charlene Liu (劉夏琳), founder of Shanghai Pride — a public event taking place for the 10th year in a row this month — was relatively upbeat.

“We are going to continue things like creating awareness in a peaceful manner, really showing people we are here, we exist,” Liu said. “We are like normal people, we are like everyone else.”

Liu said it was not clear whether gay people have been facing a greater number of attacks, but more people were using smartphones to record and post incidents online.

“Social media has come such a long way,” Liu said. “We might see it as an increase in these incidences, but we don’t really have any data to show or to prove this.”

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