While Pride Month was celebrated worldwide, there were no significant LGBT activities in China. Since 2021, the country’s largest Pride event has been canceled.
The organizer, ShanghaiPride, did not explain the change, only stating that it was “canceling all upcoming activities and taking a break from scheduling any future events.”
People who participate in political protests in China face harsh punishment, so instead of parades, ShanghaiPride sponsored dance parties, community runs, and film screenings throughout the city.
There are now only a few low-key parties for the LGBT community, such as “voguing balls,” when dancers perform actions inspired by model postures. And ShanghaiPride is not the only big LGBT organization that has ceased operations.
Several others have had to close in recent years, prompting concerns about a crackdown on activism in the world’s second-largest economy.
Thirteen LGBT-related profiles on the popular Chinese messaging service WeChat were reportedly removed in 2021.
The same year, a group that brought cases on behalf of LGBT people was shut down. According to accounts, authorities seized its creator, and his release was contingent on the group’s shutdown.
Last month, the Beijing LGBT Centre was the latest organization to suspend activities “due to forces beyond our control.”
“With the closure of the Beijing LGBT Centre, the last large LGBT organisation in China has decided to take a break,” Raymond Phang, co-founder of ShanghaiPride, told the BBC.
Mr. Phang fled China when his group’s annual celebration in Shanghai was canceled.
“There was a lot of pressure on ShanghaiPride leaders and advocates, and it became increasingly difficult to organise events,” he explained.
“After 12 years of operation, the organisers agreed that we could take a break, recharge, and wait for things to improve.”
A leader of another LGBT charity who fled China told the BBC that government pressure had taken its toll on those advocating social change.
“Police have detained organizers, and their friends and family members have been questioned.” This causes a lot of mental health stress,” added the activist, who requested anonymity.
“Prior to the pandemic, the environment for LGBT organisations was excellent.” “We were able to speak up and win some legal cases,” the activist stated. “I think we were a little too loud.”
According to Daxue Consulting, a China-focused market research firm, there were 75 million LGBT people in China in 2019, accounting for about 5% of the entire population.
LGBT organizations have advocated for various topics, including same-sex marriage, which is still illegal in the country.
In China, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, and the Chinese Society of Psychiatry no longer classified it as a mental disease in 2001.
In 2019, China’s main legislative body, the National People’s Congress, admitted that legalizing same-sex marriage was one of the top requests from residents.
However, space for LGBT campaigning has narrowed in recent years, accompanied by a crackdown on civil rights movements and online criticism.
A notification from China’s education ministry sparked a sensation in 2021, stating that young Chinese guys had become excessively “feminine.”
The ministry urged schools to fully overhaul their physical education offerings and to increase teacher recruitment.
It suggested employing retired athletes and persons with sporting credentials and “vigorously developing” specific sports like football to “cultivate students’ masculinity.”
Later that year, China’s broadcasting authority declared “effeminate” aesthetics in entertainment events would be prohibited, and “vulgar influencers” should be avoided.
The National Radio and Television Administration also committed to promoting more macho images of males and chastised male celebrities who wore excessive make-up.
These advances occur at a time when certain LGBT people are gaining popularity.
One is former police officer Ma Baoli, who made headlines after leaving a nearly two-decade career in law enforcement to launch Blued, a homosexual dating app. Ma Baoli, the former CEO of BlueCity.
BlueCity, Mr. Ma’s technological startup, will debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the United States in 2020. It became the world’s first LGBT social network to be listed on the stock exchange.
BlueCity, on the other hand, was delisted and privatized in August of last year.
Mr. Ma quit as chairman and CEO without selecting a replacement.
He alluded to the difficulty of running an LGBT business in China in a post on the popular WeChat messaging app.
“We have made the impossible possible by turning ideals into reality,” Mr Ma wrote. “I’m happy and unremorseful because I completed my mission.”
According to its website, the app has over 40 million users worldwide. BlueCity and Mr. Ma did not react promptly to a BBC request for comment.
“These problems are exacerbated in countries where there is more societal and familial discrimination,” explains Timothy Hildebrandt, an associate professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Mr. Phang, who now lives outside of China, continues to promote the country’s LGBT community from afar.
“I’ve been organising ShanghaiPride for the last decade, and now that it has very few events, I have more opportunities to support and participate in the events of other community organisations,” he says.
“Grassroots, individuals, and corporates can still advocate within their own spaces and be creative in reaching out to the community and allies,” Mr. Phang says.
“Right now, there is very little space for advocacy, but we should not give up.”