On LGBTQ activism in China

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The Asian American Cultural Center hosted a lecture on the topic of LGBTQ Activism in China on Friday afternoon. The guest speaker, Dan Zhou, is the first openly gay lawyer in mainland China, having come out in 2003, and is currently a Doctorate of Judicial Science candidate at Harvard Law School. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

The Asian American Cultural Center hosted a lecture on the topic of LGBTQ Activism in China on Friday afternoon. The guest speaker, Dan Zhou, is the first openly gay lawyer in mainland China, having come out in 2003, and is currently a Doctorate of Judicial Science candidate at Harvard Law School. As a pioneer for LGBTQ rights through advocacy, Zhou leads the charge by speaking out against unequal treatment of LGBTQ communities in China. 

Zhou started off the lecture by explaining the cultural significance of same-sex relationships in Chinese culture and the ever-expanding knowledge of LGBTQ concepts in modern-day China.  

“If you read ancient Chinese literature, you can find many accounts of same-sex intimacy,” Zhou said. “But the concept of gender identity is brand new in Chinese society.” 

As a highly authoritarian country, modern-day China has highly restrictive laws and norms, and members of the LGBTQ community are subjected to both social and legal challenges. However, the lecture also highlighted the great strides that have been accomplished. 

“Before 1997, homosexual acts were punishable,” Zhou said. “Now it is no longer a crime [in China].” 

Until 2001, homosexuality was stigmatized as a mental illness. While the removal of punishment and stigmatization of homosexuality represented significant progress, same-sex couples are still not allowed to marry and adopt under Chinese law, and there are no anti-discrimination laws protecting members of the LGBTQ community.

Zhou highlighted two ways that progress has been made recently in China and can continue to be made: Advocacy via engaging the public and advocacy through litigation. He believes that increasing exposure to the topic will inevitably expand the cause, gaining ground through increased popular opinion on the issue.

“[We must] engage the Chinese media or international foreign media to put a face on this issue,” Zhou explained. “This would help advance the cause into public opinion by getting our voices heard and getting our faces seen.” 

The second method of litigation has been extremely effective in recent years to fight for more LGBTQ rights in China. Zhou highlighted a few successful court cases, but he admitted that these cases are few and far between. 

“[Litigation cases] are very rare, since Chinese people do not sue propaganda authorities,” Zhou confessed. 

Ireoluwatomiwa Opayemi, a sixth-semester molecular cell biology major, reflected optimistically about Zhou’s explanation of a recent court case that identified a plaintiff’s right to express as transgender based on freedom of personality. 

“There’s still some good courts in China,” Opayemi said. “[Zhou] brought up so many examples where it was so easy for [the judge] to just listen to the Chinese Government, but they looked at the law and morality and said ‘you can’t discriminate against someone based on what they identify with,’ since it is the freedom of personality.” 

Opayemi also expressed his appreciation of the freedom and right Americans have in comparison to what Chinese citizens have. 

“It is hard over there… we take for granted how free America is and how freely we can express ourselves,” Opayemi said. “We know we have a long way to go here in America, but we have to be proud of ourselves in comparison to what China has right now.” 

Zhou closed off his lecture with a strong call to action. 

“It takes a lot of courage to fight for LGBTQ rights in such an authoritarian state, but we should keep fighting,” Zhou said. 


Derek Pan is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at derek.pan@uconn.edu.

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