China’s LGBTIQ+ movement is under attack. But international support can be a double-edged sword

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11/28/2021

People often ask me what it’s like to be queer or trans in China. It was the number one question I encountered when I returned to Melbourne after three years in Shanghai, much of it spent reporting on China’s LGBTQI+ community. Often the question is posed with a frown and a heavy tone because Australians tend to assume the worst. But honestly, I had an amazing time: I went to a trans summit in Ningbo, a drag show in Hangzhou, and a lesbian-run skate rink in Shanghai. I interviewed retired gay men and trans high school student activists. Everywhere I travelled, I managed to find my people, and it felt like China abounded in queer stories I was excited to tell. Homophobia in China isn’t what we’re used to in Australia. First, there aren’t really any religious lobbies in China. The government is officially atheist, and while religious practice is on the rise, most polls still report that the majority of Chinese people aren’t affiliated with any religion. Homophobia in China isn’t what we’re used to in Australia. First, there aren’t really any religious lobbies in China. The government is officially atheist, and while religious practice is on the rise, most polls still report that the majority of Chinese people aren’t affiliated with any religion. There also aren’t many laws explicitly targeting LGBTIQ+ individuals. People often say that homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997, but the offence that was abolished (‘hooliganism’) did not explicitly refer to same-sex acts. Nowadays, suppression of queer and trans representation in the media is often deputised to industry bodies and concealed within professional guidelines that prohibit same-sex relationships and gender nonconformity alongside other verboten topics like adultery and superstition.

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