ADDED ON: 06/05/2022

China’s gay youth wanting to expand rights at home seek a different path to LGBT campaigners in the West

6/3/22 | The Star

The first time Eugene Wu observed a pride parade in Manchester after arriving in Britain to study architecture in 2017, it was a bit of a culture shock. “I saw many people dressed in eccentric and flamboyant clothes,” the London-based architectural assistant said. “In a Western environment, this would not be an issue, however if it took place in East Asia, which is comparatively more conservative, it would likely invoke confusion, or even hostility.” There were pride events in China too, notably the Shanghai parade that was an annual affair until 2020, but Wu had never attended one in his home country. “Gay pride is a sort of carnival crafted through the lens of Westerners, but our people are more conservative about sexual expression,” the 24-year-old said. “It could result in more criticism and misunderstandings, even if that wasn’t our intention.” Wu is among a growing group of young Chinese gay men who recognise the limitations of LGBT rights in their country but argue that applying Western models of activism to the local context wholesale are at best ineffective and at worst detrimental to their path towards acceptance and protection. There are an estimated 70 million people in mainland China who identify as LGBT. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the country in 1997 and removed from the list of mental disorders in 2001. But discrimination against LGBT people is still commonplace, and gay men in particular have been targeted in a widening crackdown against depictions of masculinity that do not conform to gender norms. “Men shoulder an intense burden from their family, especially their parents, if they are not married to women and have no children to continue the family line,” according to a 2019 study by Wei Chongzheng and Liu Wenli. The priorities of gay men in China, therefore, may differ from those of their Western counterparts. “For most Chinese gay men, personal factors such as acceptance from family and their community will be more important than structural factors like the right to marry, to the extent that it does not impinge on their daily lives,” said Professor Dominic Yeo from Hong Kong Baptist University, whose research focuses on LGBT youth. “The Westernised style of expression that is in your face, is not necessarily the default or most preferred option for China’s LGBT community. It is also not the only metric of progress.”

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