The Chinese Government Is Committed to Erasing LGBTQ People. Here Are 5 Ways It’s Succeeding.
The Chinese government has long made its stance on LGBTQ people known, not affording them any legal protections or recognizing same-sex marriage. But recent actions taken by the state seem to indicate that China does not want to simply forgo basic rights and protections for their queer citizens, but actually pretend they don’t exist. Through poorly justified censorship, the Chinese government is erasing LGBTQ people from public view.
Here’s how they’re doing it.
5 ways the Chinese government is currently erasing LGBTQ people:
1. Wiping LGBTQ terms and accounts from social media
The hugely popular Chinese messaging platform QQ recently banned terms such as “LGBTQ” and “gay.” QQ is used by over half a billion people in China and allows them to connect to one another in public group chats through key words. However, Chinese users who searched LGBTQ-related words received the following message instead: “Use the Internet in a civil manner. Say no to harmful information.”
It seems that now the message has changed to simply say “no results found.”
Queer dating sites have often been the subject of censorship in China as well, and are an easy tool for erasing LGBTQ people. In 2017, Rela, a popular dating app for lesbians, was unceremoniously shut down. It returned one year later on a different cloud provider. Likewise, Zank, a gay dating app, was shut down by the government for allegedly violating pornography regulations.
2. Censoring any form of masculinity that isn’t heteronormative
Most recently, Chinese state media regulator The National Radio and Television Administration called for a ban of “sissy” boy bands on television, deeming them immoral, as part of an eight-point regulation plan to clean up the entertainment industry. Though criticism of popular boy groups like Super Junior-M and Exo-M for their non-traditional aesthetics has always been prevalent, this is the first time the state is codifying it.
The plan states: “Boycott an overly entertaining trend, promote traditional culture, establish correct beauty standards, boycott “sissy idols,” [boycott] daunting wealth, gossip or vulgar internet celebrities.”
The Chinese government has made it very clear that any diversion from traditional masculine values, such as men wearing earrings (seriously), will not be tolerated — going so far as to literally blur out men’s ears on popular television shows.
3. Banning queer content in entertainment and punishing artists who create it
In addition to censoring any sort of media that might deviate from traditional gender norms, China has also taken to literally erasing LGBTQ people and content from popular entertainment. Ten scenes — all related to Freddy Mercury’s identity as a queer man — from Bohemian Rhapsody were edited out of the blockbuster film when it aired in China in 2019. Additionally, Rami Malek’s Oscars speech was translated incorrectly, replacing “gay man” with “special group.”
Chinese novelist Tianyi was sentenced to a decade in jail for including gay sex in her novel, dubbed “producing and selling pornographic materials” by the Chinese government. While this incredibly harsh sentence is disproportionate to her so-called crime, it also serves as a warning to artists who are thinking of including queer representation in their works.
4. Raiding LGBTQ events or otherwise deterring them
In 2020, China’s oldest and largest Pride event, ShanghaiPRIDE, announced it would be canceling upcoming activities and taking a break. One year later, one of the organizers explained in a letter to the community that unwanted attention was a primary factor in the decision to cancel the event. He also explained that due to this, he was forced to leave Shanghai.
An LGBTQ rights conference in Chengdu was canceled following pressure from the local state government in 2017.
Gay circuit parties have been raided by police in major cities like Shanghai as well. These raids occur frequently enough that their possibility is common knowledge.
5. Discrimination in the mental health field and the practice of “conversion therapy”
A Beijing LGBT Center in 2015 reported that approximately one-third of respondents working in the mental health field thought being queer was a mental illness. One-third of respondents believed conversion therapy was effective. China has no laws banning the practice of conversion therapy, and many LGBTQ people in the country have been forced to undergo it.
Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the Chinese Psychiatric Association as recently as 2001. The Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders Version 3 includes “ego-dystonic homosexuality,” which allows medical professionals to “treat” people who feel uncomfortable with their sexual orientation, thus indicating that queerness is something that can, or should be, “cured.” It’s not.