In the last few years, the gay scene in China’s biggest cities has gradually trickled into the mainstream. Increased awareness of the nation’s urban LGBT community mirrors a shift, especially among the younger generation, who are becoming more tolerant on the issue.
Shanghai Pride is a prime example of this increased openness. This year more than 3,000 participants from all over China joined the festivities, making it the biggest Shanghai Pride event to date.
The weeklong event, from June 14-22, features parties, picnics, LGBT film screenings, art exhibitions, theatre performances and panel discussions. Started five years ago by Shanghai's expat community with only a few dozen participants, the festival has expanded and grown to enlist the help of more than 100 volunteers and several foreign consulates.
''With the use of social media, messages spread fast,” a volunteer nicknamed Ramisto told The Diplomat. “Straight people also came to support us. This year, 70 percent of the participants were Chinese locals. Most of them tend to be young, between 20-30 years old.”
According to the event’s main organizer, Charlene Liu, the event has helped promote tolerance and create social awareness of LGBT issues. While Shanghai Pride may not include a parade like the rest of festivals throughout the world due to government restrictions, the message is just as strong. Liu said: “We want people to realize that we are the same as you, we fall in love and we fall out of love, the only difference is who we love.”
Liu added, “During the event, a young Chinese guy came out to his family. And his family eventually came around.”
However, not all families are as accepting. Traditional values have pressured many gays to commit to fake marriages in China, especially in second and third-tier cities. According to Zhang Beichuan, a professor and LGBT researcher at Qingdao University's Medical School, there are 20 million gay and bisexual men in China, of whom around 80 percent have married straight women.
“Even if parents can accept the fact that you are gay, they still might ask, ‘But where's our grandchild?’” Venus, a 25-year-old member of Shanghai's LGBT community, told The Diplomat.
It is common for gays and lesbians from the countryside or third-tier cities to move to bigger ponds like Shanghai and Beijing, where sexual orientation does not govern everyday life. Many find it more difficult to express themselves in the less tolerant countryside.
Yet, Venus is hopeful for the future: “Things will change. The post 90s generation are more individualistic, they tend to be out and open about their sexuality. They see marriage more as a relationship commitment than a duty to extend the family line.”
Venus’ optimism was echoed last week when young pop singer Li Daimo came out of the closet. He gained overwhelming support from netizens on China's popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo.
One Weibo user wrote: “Any kind of love should be blessed.”
Liu added, “Fifteen years ago homosexuality was labeled a psychological disorder in Chinese society. Look at where we are now! More people are accepting and supporting us. We are on the way towards more tolerance and liberalism. It takes time.”