Chinese Government Shuts Down LGBT Event, Detains Attendees

"We were clearly told: ‘LGBT events can never be held in Xi’an.'"

Police in Xi’an, China, detained nine LGBT activists on Sunday, claiming the city did not welcome gay people.

Members of the group Speak Out wanted to hold an LGBT rights conference in the city, a major tourist destination in China. Authorities questioned organizers for nearly eight hours—forcing them to turn over their phones, provide administrator access to their social media, and hand over a list of speakers—before eventually letting them go.

“They were very clear in telling us we couldn’t organize activities in Xi’an again, and that they didn’t welcome gays,” one organizer told Reuters.

The conference has already faced obstacles before the police crackdown: Host venues canceled on Speak Out, prompting organizers to actually cancel the conference on Saturday, a full day before they were detained.

People hold candles as they share a minute of silence during a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting in Florida, in Hong Kong on June 13, 2016. Law enforcement authorities have lowered the death toll from the weekend massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando to 49, the deadliest mass shooting in American history, explaining that the shooter had been counted in the original tally. / AFP / ANTHONY WALLACE        (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

While many in China’s LGBT community are celebrating Taiwan’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage, the experience under President Xi Jinping is quite different. Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997, and some larger cities have thriving gay scenes, but old-fashioned views on family, marriage, and children are deeply entrenched: Only 3% of LGBT men and 6% of LGBT women say they are “completely out.” (It’s estimated some 80% of gay/bi men in China are closeted and in opposite-sex marriages.)

Beijing’s attitude toward gay people is equally hard to pin down: Grindr was recently purchased by a Chinese company, and the most popular gay app, Blued, has received government funding. In September, censors recently approved the release of Seeking McCartney, the first film shown in China that featured gay principal characters.

At the same time, popular Chinese lesbian dating app Rela was shut down last week with no reason given.

Days earlier, a group of PFLAG parents attending a popular “marriage market” in Shanghai were forced out.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery