- Published on Friday, 27 April 2012
- Written by Peter Burnett
In 1925, Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen reportedly said to his followers who were growing complacent: “Revolution has not yet succeeded; our comrades need to push on.” And so it goes for the plight of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community in the most populous country on earth. China has more than a billion people living within its borders, and change occurs painfully slowly.
As a country, China never had much of a problem with homosexuality until the 19th and 20th centuries when westernisation took root under the late Qing Dynasty and through leadership of the early Republic of China. By that time, homosexuality was not only outlawed, but it was classified as a mental disease, resulting in imprisonment and institutionalisation for anyone convicted or even suspected of being what was considered sexually deviant.
There have been turning points, with the LGBT community taking small steps in equality since the 1990s. In 1997, Chinese leadership ended the ban on homosexuality on mainland China. In 2001, the government took another step, officially removing homosexuality from the Ministry of Health’s list of mental illnesses. But much of these new found rights are on the surface, with observers outside the giant Communist bureaucracy that leads the country believing they are solely for show, and exist only to deflect more accusations of human rights violations.
According to a 2010 article in USA Today, “Openness about homosexuality is seen by some as too much of a refutation of the Communist Party line in a country where men are pressured by the government and tradition to marry and father a child, gays say.”
Within the military, inclusion of gays is forbidden, with recruits undergoing intense psychological and physical screenings to remove from consideration anyone suspected of being homosexual. While a battery of psychological testing is the norm, doctors are often tasked with inspecting a male recruit’s anus – to make sure it does not show signs of being violated. China may have decriminalized homosexuality six years before the United States repealed sodomy laws in all states, but there is nothing on the books preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Hot-button issues that are openly discussed in other countries – same-sex marriage, adoption by gays and lesbians, and AIDS/HIV – are routinely brushed aside in China, where an informal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy seems to rule.
The image used in this article may be found at this file location. It was taken by Tiffini M. Jones, MC 1st Class, and uploaded via Wikimedia Commons user Rammstein15 (no user page). This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.