At the Shanghai’s famous “marriage market,” parents of young singles exchange fliers with their offsprings’ details, in hope of landing them a mate. But on Saturday, when parents of gay singles tried to join in, they were met with hostility from other “shoppers,” and were ultimately escorted out by police.
Eleven parents participated in the event, organized by the local PFLAG chapter and Rela, a social and dating app for lesbians. It was reportedly the first time parents of LGBT people had ever attempted to take part in the marriage market, which is held weekends in People’s Park in Huangpu District.
The market first sprung up in 2004 but has quickly codified into something of ritual. And the PFLAG parents followed protocol—lining up behind a row of umbrellas decorated with fliers. They used rainbow-colored umbrellas with hopes of raising awareness about the difficulties faced by LGBT people in China. Soon after they arrived, though, they were berated by onlookers, told that their children were “abnormal,” and questioned by strangers about their kids’ sexual activity.
Eventually police arrived and told the group they had to leave because they didn’t have a permit to demonstrate. Some parents handed out fliers advocating for LGBT equality.
“If parents of straight people can be here, parents of gay people can also be here,” said Dong Wanwan, a mother who had traveled over 700 miles to be there. “We have every right to be here—I’m here to find a boyfriend for my son.”
SixthTone.com reports that one onlooker said, “What they’re doing here is illegal, they’re fraudsters. LGBT issues shouldn’t be a public display. Their choice is wrong and is against Chinese values.”
Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997 and declassified as a mental illness in 2001, but homophobia is still prevalent in large parts of the country: Textbooks still refer to being gay as an “illness” and depictions of homosexuality are widely censored in Chinese TV and movies.
Only 3% of queer Chinese men, and 6% of women, say they are “fully out.” Many of the rest are closeted and married to opposite-sex partners.
A YouTube video of the event was posted on Chinese social media outlet Weibo, where users expressed support for the parents. “They have really touched by heart,” one wrote. “Parents coming out in public to defend and help their children.”
Another commented, “I hope people can treat gays and lesbians as normal. And I hope there is a day when my partner and I can hold hands in public.”