A 20-year-old gay man in China has become the first to sue the government in the name of LGBT equality. Xiang Xiaohan (a pseudonym) filed the defamation lawsuit in Changsha, Hunan’s provincial capital, after an application to register his gay rights group was denied. It has been seen as a bold move in a country that, until the 1990s, considered homosexuality to be both a crime and a mental disorder.
The official letter of refusal claimed that Xiang had no legal basis for setting up an LGBT organization and that it went against “traditional Chinese culture and the social construction of morality.”
The response, considered by many to be homophobic, also stated: “According to the Marriage Law, marriage must include one man and one woman, so the law does not approve of homosexual marriages or relationships.”
Xiang founded the group, Same-Sex Love Assistance Network, in 2009. Acceptance by the local government, Xiang claims, would make it easier for him to hold fundraisers and public events (though, technically, only state-run NGOs are approved).
Xiang’s lawsuit, filed on February 19, demanded a retraction and a published apology.
The Changsha court ruled that the letter didn’t defame homosexuals and simply offered “administrative guidance.” Though the case was thrown out on March 14, Xiang plans to appeal.
“If we can’t force the civil affairs department of the Hunan government to withdraw what it said on homosexuality, then other government bodies would likely follow its example, and this would cause irreparable psychological damage to gay and lesbian people,” Xiang told BBC. “If gay and lesbian people have no place in China’s traditional culture, how can you encourage them to pursue the [Chinese] Dream?”
Until it was abolished in 1997, China’s controversial “hooligan law” criminalized homosexual activity. The Chinese Psychiatric Association also listed homosexuality as a mental disease until a 2001 revision.
Despite the case’s dismissal, some view the fact that a Chinese court even considered the case at all to be a small victory.
“It is the first time in China that a local government department has formally given a written reply to a request from the gay and lesbian community, whereas in the past the government would just simply ignore it,” said Yu Fang Qiang, a spokesperson for Nanjing-based anti-discrimination NGO Justice For All.
There are an estimated 30 million LGBT individuals in China. In a country that holds fast to traditional customs and family values, many are forced to live double lives. Some parents even force their children to undergo sexual orientation reassignment treatments.