|Xiang Xiaohan * Photo courtesy of Xiang Xiaohan|
CHANGSHA, China -- A 20-year-old a LGBT rights activist from Hunan Province has become the first person to sue a Chinese governmental body for LGBT equality. Xiang Xiaohan (a pseudonym) filed lawsuit in the provincial capital, Changsha, after the Hunan government turned down his application to register his LGBT equality rights group his organisation.
Xiaohan received an 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 Xiaohan and his fellow activists 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.” Xiaohan’s lawsuit, was filed on February 19, and demanded a retraction and a published apology.
The Changsha court dismissed the case last month on March 14, ruling that the letter didn’t defame homosexuals and simply offered “administrative guidance.” Xiaohan said he 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,” Xiaohan told the BBC.
“If gay and lesbian people have no place in China’s traditional culture, how can you encourage them to pursue the [Chinese] Dream?”
Xiaohan founded his group, Same-Sex Love Assistance Network, in 2009. Acceptance by the local government, he claims, would make it easier for him to hold fundraisers and public events (though, technically, only state-run NGOs are approved).
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.
Analysts say Xiaohan's high profile protest has offered a rare glimpse into the extent to which attitudes towards homosexuality in China have changed.