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Gay Activists Press for Rights in China

  • Shannon Van Sant

While the United States Supreme Court considers whether gay men and women have the right to marry, debate on the issue also is growing in China. Gay rights activists in that nation increasingly are vocal about the right to marry and live free from discrimination.

Xiao Tie works at Beijing’s LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] center, working to end discrimination against homosexuals in China. Last February the battle became personal, when Xiao tried to marry her partner, Elsie Liao. She went to the local Civil Affairs Bureau to apply for a marriage certificate.

“When we went to register, the local officer was a man, he was very impolite and very bad to us. He kept saying ‘it’s not possible, the marriage law says no’ and told us to go elsewhere. But when we decided to do that we knew it would never happen, our main aim was to express our need," she said.

Xiao is part of a growing gay rights movement in China. The Chinese government decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. Ah Qiang, who leads a Guangzhou-based NGO representing parents of gays and lesbians, visited Beijing with two of the parents from his organization.

One mother, who declined to give her name, said she had difficulty accepting her son’s homosexuality.

“When my son was at middle school I already felt he wasn’t like the others. But as a mother I didn’t dare to think my son was homosexual. I didn’t have the guts to go ask him, because I was afraid he would think I knew and he didn’t need to change. I thought he was still young and immaculate, he could still be changed,” she said.

In time, both she and another mother not only embraced their children’s sexuality, but became gay rights activists themselves.

They signed an open letter from 100 parents of gays and lesbians to China’s National People’s Congress, urging the Chinese government to adopt same-sex marriage benefits. Authorities never responded.

“Our homosexual children are in no way different to straight people. We also want them to have a stable family life. We ask the government to design such a law to give them this right,” she said.

Many families expect their children to marry and continue the filial line. China’s one child policy only increases that social pressure. But Xiao and other activists say they want to be treated the same as heterosexuals - in the workplace, at home with their families, and have the right to marry the person they love.

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