Health and rights challenges for China's LGBT community

Elsevier, The Lancet, Volume 389, Issue 10076, 1–7 April 2017, Page 1286
Talha Burki

Despite some progress in recent years, China's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community still face substantial barriers to protecting their health and human rights. Talha Burki reports.

There is a long-running tradition of accepting homosexuality in China. The native religions have not issued serious condemnation, and there are notable historical examples of same-sex relationships in the country. Under the Communists, the atmosphere darkened. Gay men and transgender women found themselves harassed under ambiguously framed anti-hooliganism laws (these were removed in 1997). But there was no systematic persecution and the country has never maintained specific legislation criminalising homosexuality.

Nonetheless, the lingering effects of the one-child policy, which was finally discontinued in 2015, alongside the persistent myth that homosexuality is a disease have had serious consequences for the Chinese lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. “There is a strong social pressure for people to conform in China, and that means a powerful emphasis on having children and continuing the family line”, says Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch, NY, USA. Focused on a single child, this pressure can be intense. “Family life is key”, affirms Damien Lu, founder of the Information Clearing House for Chinese Gays and Lesbians. Indeed, private attitudes may be deceptively homophobic; a 2013 study found that over two-thirds of the almost 3500 Chinese people surveyed said they would not be able to accept homosexuality. According to some estimates, 70% of gay men in China marry straight women.