News / Asia

Gay Rights Activist Held in China

Activists march during a demonstration to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Changsha, May 17, 2013. The banner reads, "Homosexsuals are also ordinary people".
Activists march during a demonstration to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Changsha, May 17, 2013. The banner reads, "Homosexsuals are also ordinary people".
VOA News
A young gay rights activist was detained last week in the southern city of Changsha, following a rally organized by local groups to mark an international day against homophobia, his lawyer said.

The man, 19-year-old Xiang Yuhan, was taken into custody early Saturday after police came to his hotel room.

“He’s been put under administrative detention for 12 days on charges of organizing an illegal rally.  His mother is mentally ill and he looks after her.  We’ve asked authorities to cut short his detention,” said his lawyer, Lin Qilei.

Lin said his client is being held at the Changsha Detention Center.  In China, individuals can be held without trial for at least one month.

In the wake of recent milestones for gay rights around the globe, activists in China are stepping up efforts to promote the legal recognition of same-sex marriage and win more guarantees for basic rights.

In April, New Zealand became the 13th country in the world to legalize gay marriage, followed a few days later by France.  In the United States, 12 states and Washington, D.C., already approve same-sex marriage, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver a key ruling on the same topic.

Protest

Last week, at least 100 demonstrators took part in the rally in Changsha.  It took place on International Day Against Homophobia, a worldwide event coordinated by a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization based in Paris.  Marchers called for an end to discrimination against gays and increased guarantees of civil rights for homosexuals in China.

Fellow gay rights activist Ah Qiang, who also attended the rally, said he believes Xiang Yuhan was singled out because he is a prominent advocate for LGBT rights in the south of China.

Three other people were taken away by police at the same time and were freed a few hours later after questioning.

“He [Xiang Yuhan] was the organizer of the rally, he runs a community website for homosexuals and helped launch a similar event last year.  He is very active and wants to keep hosting the event in the future,” said Ah Qiang.

VOA was unable to reach authorities in Changsha for comment on the case.

Last week, similar demonstrations took place in several cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.  No other arrests have been reported elsewhere.

Organizers said the rallies have been peaceful and colorful, attracting the understanding and support of local communities.  Marchers sang, shouted slogans and handed out leaflets to amused passersby.  At Chongqing University, demonstrators organized a kissing competition off campus.  The event drew hundreds of onlookers and was widely discussed on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service.

Open letter

Civil rights lawyers also marked the day.  They signed an open letter, addressed to China’s Legal Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, asking for a revision of China’s marriage law to include gay marriage as a legal form of union.

“Gay couples still face much discrimination in China, due to the lack of a legal recognition of their union,” said Beijing layer Huang Yizhi.  Huang was a promoter of the petition. “For example, in Shanghai, homosexual couples are barred from purchasing a house because they cannot marry.”

Civil rights like the right to share properties, to inherit and adopt children, that are constitutionally guaranteed to all citizens in China, should also apply to homosexuals, reads the open letter.

“Recently another state in the U.S. legalized same-sex marriage and the debate is resonating around the world.  This is very encouraging for us,” said Huang. 

Some believe one of the first steps toward revising any sort of law in China was taken last week, when a court ruling in Hong Kong issued a landmark ruling regarding the definition of who is eligible to marry.

Hong Kong ruling

Last Monday, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeals stated that the Marriage Ordinance must include in its definition of ‘woman’ or ‘female’ that of a ‘post-operative male-to-female transsexual person.’  The ruling was a final response to a lawsuit filed by a transsexual woman regarding the established concept of marriage.

The court’s decision sparked controversy in Hong Kong, which is a special administrative zone of China.  Conservatives in Hong Kong fear the ruling opens the door to same-sex marriage.

Homosexuality is still a very sensitive topic in China, but is gaining more attention, even from state-run news organizations.

Earlier this week, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted a study that said gays and bisexuals in China face widespread discrimination from employers and peers, and that discourages them from being open about their sexual orientation in the workplace.

Many fear that revealing their sexual orientation at work could hinder their career advancement, while others worry about the impact it could have on their relationships with their colleagues.

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