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    Beijing Olympics Shine a Light on LGBTIQ Crackdown

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    As a record number of openly LGBTIQ athletes proudly compete in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, we must not forget that the host country China itself is in the midst of an intensifying crackdown against LGBTIQ people.

    One of the most significant recent developments is the closure of China’s leading LGBTIQ civil rights organization, LGBT Rights Advocacy China, in November 2021. The pathbreaking group had promoted legislation, brought impact litigation, and raised public awareness of LGBTIQ issues for the last eight years.

    Although China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, it neither affords same-sex couples legal recognition nor provides LGBTIQ people legal protection against discrimination in employment, public accommodations, or housing. LGBT Rights Advocacy China had surprising successes in advancing LGBTIQ equality, such as a 2014 victory in a lawsuit against conversion therapy and a 2019 campaign in which nearly 200,000 people urged the Chinese government to enact nationwide marriage equality. Progress for the foreseeable future now seems in doubt.

    The LGBT Rights Advocacy China’s shutdown comes on the heels of multiple WeChat accounts of LGBTIQ college students, student organizations, and informal groups being blocked and deleted without warning six months ago. For years, the online presence of these groups had served as a lifeline for many LGBTIQ young people and a valuable community building resource. And in 2020, Shanghai Pride, China’s only annual Pride celebration, was shut down after 11 years.

    These clampdowns are part of broader cultural and educational repression of queerness and other forms of perceived nonconformity. Back in 2015, the government prohibited depiction of same-sex relationships and LGBTIQ people on television, and in early 2016, a popular gay web series was shut down.

    In February last year, the Chinese government promulgated the “Proposal to Prevent the Feminization of Male Adolescents” for schools. According to the Communist Party’s China Daily, the plan requires schools to recast physical education classes to “cultivate masculinity” among boys, evaluate the physical intensity of classes, and “vigorously develop” contact sports such as soccer.

    Last September, the government took it a step further when it banned effeminate men from appearing on television, declaring that media must “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics.” The concern appears to be based on the cultural influence of enormously popular celebrities such as members of BTS and their Chinese counterparts who fail to conform to rigid gender norms.

    The oppressive measures appear in furtherance of the vision of Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party of so-called “national rejuvenation” to a “new era” as China gains increasing power and prominence on the world stage. That vision involves greater central government control at the expense of human rights and freedoms. It includes the government imposing its view of traditional Chinese culture and morality as part of what it terms “Chinese Socialism,” separate from purported foreign influences.

    Sadly, Xi and his compatriots ignore not only that the future lies with the embrace of diversity, but also that homosexuality, in fact, has been part of traditional Chinese culture for over 3,000 years—dating back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century–11th century BCE). Although the history of homosexuality in China like anywhere else is complex, Chinese history, literature, and culture are replete with numerous examples of acceptance of homosexuality, such as gay Emperor Ai of Han in the 1st century BCE and forms of same-sex marriage in Fujian Province in the 17th century.

    However, as we call attention to the anti-LGBTIQ crackdown in China, we must also turn the mirror on the U.S. itself. As the Olympics take place in Beijing, Republicans aligned with Donald Trump and other conservatives who together have their own nationalist anti-democratic agenda continue to wage their own campaigns against LGBTIQ people in the U.S.

    Anti-transgender legislative proposals predominate. But most recently, regressive legislation in Florida, termed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and similar legislation in other states is gaining prominence. The Florida bill would prohibit school districts from “encourag[ing] classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

    While the Chinese government is trying to make effeminate schoolboys more macho, Florida is attempting to “effectively silence students from speaking about their LGBTQ family members, friends, neighbors, and icons,” as Kara Gross of the Florida ACLU explained to the Associated Press. And attempts to ban LGBTIQ books from school libraries proliferate across Trump country from Texas to Oklahoma to Tennessee, along with countless efforts to ban books and curriculum that address racial inequities and other subjects.

    A 7th century Chinese Buddhist metaphor likens the mind’s inability to perceive its innate luminescence to clouds obscuring the shining sun. LGBT Rights Advocacy China concluded its social media post announcing its closure with the words: “[W]e await the day when we can lift the clouds and see the daylight.” Chinese LGBTIQ activists are extraordinarily resilient and strategic. We know they will lift the clouds—as we know we will lift the clouds in the U.S. as well.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published on February 10, 2022