A new social media campaign is asking gays and lesbians to pledge not to enter into sham marriages with straight people.
Since PFLAG China launched the campaign on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, several weeks ago, users have been posting selfies with a hashtag that translates to “I’m gay and won’t marry a straight person.”
Called “xinghun,” such unions are common in China—one expert claims there are some 16 million gay men in marriages to straight women alone.
There are even apps that cater to xinghun.
Couples draw up contracts before the wedding, delineating the terms of their relationship and if there will be any children. (The contracts are legally binding.)
One Weibo user says that, for gays, xinghun have turned “the great institution of marriage… into love’s graveyard.”
PFLAG China’s campaign is doubly bold, though, in that it also requires participants to come out publicly, a tricky proposition in China. Homosexuality has been legal since 1997, and the country is without the strong Christian streak that fuels much of the homophobia in the U.S., but familial obligations and social pressure can be just as overwhelming.
Fittingly, parents are asked to join the campaign, too—by posting selfies with a promise they won’t pressure their gay kid into entering a heterosexual marriages.
“This campaign is not meant as criticism of gay people who marry straight people,” spokesperson Zhou Ying told the BBC.
“We just want to encourage gay people to treasure themselves, to live the lives they want, to be who they truly are… and we want to push the message of equal rights.”
It’s a message the country needs to hear: In March, government censors cited rules against “abnormal sexual relationships” when they canceled Addicted, a show about gay teenagers.
And this month a court denied a gay man’s request to register his union to his partner.
But more recently the government approved Looking For Rohmer, the first mainstream Chinese movie focusing on a same-sex relationship. It will play theaters later this year with no edits.
Change will come, activists say, but it will be less like throwing a brick through a window and more like pushing a boulder.
“The wheel of history is moving forward,” says Liao Zhuoying, owner of the xinghun app Queers. “But not everyone is courageous enough to stand at the forefront.”