Upon graduating from college in 2019, Xiao Mei * was excited. Recently graduated in English from Sun Yat-sen University, she had just obtained a teaching position at an elite school and was finally able to leave Guangzhou in southern China to live with her girlfriend in Shenzhen.
With their luggage packed and the rental contract signed, the couple were surprised by a message a few days before the trip: the school was canceling the contract on the pretext that Mei was not fit for work. They later found out that the dismissal was caused by a photo of kissing his girlfriend on the cheek, posted only to friends on the WeChat app, but leaked to future bosses by Mei’s stepfather, who didn’t did not accept the relationship.
“When I told school that I got into debt to move to such an expensive city as Shenzhen, they said they wouldn’t back down because I could encourage my students to accept ‘unhealthy’ relationships.” , he said.
The stepfather, who owns a small factory in the east of the country, offered to pay the bills for Mei’s girlfriend, on the condition that they end the relationship. They did not accept it.
“My salary at school would be high, so we chose an apartment in a more upscale neighborhood and spent it on better quality furniture. My girlfriend couldn’t afford to pay herself and I had to work two jobs for about ten hours a day until I had enough to pay off the loans we had taken out with friends ”, said she remembers.
The case is far from being an exception. At the beginning of June – coincidentally, the month of LGBTQIA + pride – a lesbian couple succeeded in having a case for discrimination against minorities accepted by the Changning District Court in Shanghai, one of the largest from the country.
As the South China Morning Post reports, they were planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day (usually celebrated in China on May 21) and purchased a package with a discount for couples at a zoo in Guangzhou. When they tried to use the tickets, the staff told them that “couples are only one man and one woman” and that they should “have been informed about local policies before buying. tickets”.
nationalism and prejudice
Even with several homosexual figures and even emperors in its history, China did not decriminalize homosexuality until 1997. Four years later, the third edition of the China Classification of Mental Disorders removed homosexuality from the list. mental disorders, but retained the category of “ego homosexuality – dystoic”, a condition removed from the list of diseases recognized by the WHO in 1986 and which describes people who do not accept their sexuality. The decision opened loopholes for conversion therapy and kept the pathologization of non-heterosexual sexuality alive.
For Séagh Kehoe, an expert in gender studies and sexual minorities in China, the emphasis placed by the Xi Jinping era on “family values” and “demographic concerns related to the decline in fertility rates and the aging of the population Have reinforced prejudices against LGBTQIA + couples. A lecturer at the University of Westminster, UK, Kehoe argues that the rise of nationalism – “almost always deeply patriarchal and heteronormative” – stigmatizes the sexuality of minorities, presenting it as a “Western value”.
“The emphasis on promoting heteronormative marriage and having children is part of the state’s broader obsession with social stability. Nationalism marks LGBTQIA + people, desires, and practices as something different and from a different place, essentially ‘non-Chinese’. Activists who fight prejudice are cracked down and authorities also routinely ban queer content in movies, TV series and online, creating a culture of silence, stigma and, at times, very limited ideas about what it is. family, ”he said.
Kehoe says he believes the macho dynamic, common even within the queer community, is also common in China and that “gay men and women are viewed in different ways.”
“It disproportionately affects queer women, their participation, their ability to be heard and to lead. This is why there is so much overlap between queer and feminist activism in China, ”she said, noting, however, that gay men are under pressure from society and the government to“ cultivate masculinity ”.
In 2019, China opened for public consultation the possible inclusion of same-sex marriage in its first Civil Code, officially launched last year. Nearly 200,000 people applied for approval, but the possibility was ruled out by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Legislative Affairs Committee, citing the need to maintain “heterosexual monogamy in line with China’s traditional cultural norms. contemporary ”.
Mei says the lack of a legal framework to protect the union with his girlfriend is a constant cause for concern.
“My family doesn’t support, but they don’t disrespect my relationship either. My girlfriend’s family has many influential members in her town, they want to avoid a scandal. Imagining a situation where she or I get sick and need one of us to access bank accounts or sign authorizations makes me anxious. It also discourages us from having a child, since we will not be able to register the child with two mothers, ”he says.
Kehoe points out that framing homosexuality in opposition to China’s “traditional cultural norms” makes it difficult to envision a scenario in which the state supports marriage equality. Even so, approving marriage equality in the country is not impossible, and “social pressures can force the state to give in.”
“Homosexuals have no legal protection for sexual orientation and gender identity, no legal right to adopt, no legally recognized same-sex relationship. However, queer activists in China are doing a really amazing job of promoting change and are very creative in how they deal with issues like censorship or advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQIA + in society, so we’ll see.
* The name has been changed at the request of the respondent.
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