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Opinion / Chen Weihua

Progress in LGBT civil rights should be contagious

By CHEN WEIHUA (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-01 08:08

Progress in LGBT civil rights should be contagious

A couple at a group wedding for seven same-sex couples from China, in West Hollywood, California, United States, June 9, 2015. [Photo/VCG]

It was a year ago, on June 26, 2015, to be precise, when the US Supreme Court ruled that all states should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriages in other jurisdictions.

So much has changed since my stay in Hawaii in the early 1990s, when that state tried to become the first in the US to legalize same-sex marriage. It became a reality in the Rainbow State only in 2013. On June 24, US President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn in New York City as a national monument to commemorate the uprising of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community on June 28, 1969. The protest that day in response to a police raid ushered in the LGBT civil rights movement.

Late at night on July 24, 2011, I was outside the Stonewall Inn 2011 to cover the celebration when the New York state legislature passed the Marriage Equality Act, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo the same day. June is a month of Pride parades and festivals, but this year celebrations are heavy with sadness because of the June 12 shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured.

In Shanghai, the 10-day eighth Shanghai Pride festival ended on June 26.While the Shanghai festival still did not have a parade like many other global cities, the colorful activities this year featured a film festival, stage performances, Pride run, bicycle ride, exhibitions, a conference, awareness campaign, parties and awards. Shanghai is regarded the most LGBT-friendly city on the Chinese mainland, demonstrating the tolerance and acceptance that is required for an international city that Shanghai aspires to become.

I happened to be on the China Daily team writing editorials back in 2009 when the piece "Pride of Tolerance" I wrote was probably the first endorsement by a national newspaper. The first Shanghai Pride festival that year was not as smooth as this year's. Some activities had to be canceled because government authorities intervened.

The attitude toward the LGBT community in China has improved over the years, but it still cannot be compared with that in the US and many other countries. Same-sex marriage is still not possible in China. On April 13, two gay men lost a court case in Changsha, Hunan province, when they challenged a local civil affairs bureau that had denied them the right to marry. Both vowed to carry on the fight, though.

On June 14, a Beijing court accepted a woman's case against the Ministry of Education to revise textbooks that call homosexuality a "psychological disorder". It was the third attempt by the woman with the Sun Yatsen University in Guangzhou.

China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from the list of mental disorders in 2001. But less than 15 percent of LGBT people in China choose to open up, even to their close family members, according to a United Nations report published on May 17. The study, conducted by UN Development Programme in China, Peking University's sociology department and Beijing LGBT Center, covered 28,000 people in late 2015.

The study found that young people in China were less prejudiced against the group, a good sign for more progress in the years ahead. The LGBT group in China is believed to number between 39 million and 52 million.

Sociologist Li Yinhe has been the leading voice for LGBT rights in China. For years, she has helped draft measures for the country's legislature that push for legalizing same-sex marriage. While such bills have not made any legislative progress, Li is optimistic that progress outside China will have a positive impact on the country. Perhaps she is right, for some Chinese-language media outlets covering the 2016 Shanghai Pride cited the long fight in the US, starting with the Stonewall Uprising 47 years ago.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA. chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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