Gay festival teaches tolerance
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-16 07:51

The weeklong Shanghai Pride 2009, the largest gay and lesbian community event on the Chinese mainland, should be hailed as a milestone and a success, despite some unexpected official interference.

Hundreds of LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) and some curious straight folks packed the Cotton's Xinhua Road club from 2 to 10 pm on Saturday, with a series of live events culminating in four same-sex weddings when gay marriage is still illegal in the country.

The festive crowds continued their party in the Glamour Bar on the Bund until the next day. On Sunday, the LGBT crowds celebrated their last-day party with singing, badminton and swimming contests.

For many LGBTs, it was the first time they felt like coming out of the closet in the country's largest metropolis. It was their first grand party on the Chinese mainland.

Although China decriminalized gay sex in 1997 and no longer considers homosexuality as a mental disorder since 2001, discrimination against LGBTs is still prevalent.

Some government officials still do not recognize and accept LGBTs as normal human beings, and deny them due dignity and equal rights.

During the week of Shanghai Pride, local government officials intervened to cancel several film screenings and the staging of a play. This is a truly shame for Shanghai, a city which claims to be open and progressive; and, a city of immigrants that is proud of its tradition of embracing different peoples and cultures.

Shanghai has embarked on an ambitious program to develop itself as an international financial and shipping hub. It is a city that is planning to host the World Expo in May 2010 when 239 countries and international organizations will showcase their technologies and unique cultures.

Yet, if Shanghai cannot even show acceptance, understanding and tolerance for LGBTs, how can it expect it to attract and respect the diverse people coming to visit the Expo and develop in future the working environment for a global financial and shipping center.

Shanghai Pride 2009 was intended to help more LGBTs to come out of the closet. Yet government meddling clearly sent a wrong signal. It is a message denying the basic civil rights of LGBTs, who are no longer illegal in this country. It's quite disturbing to see the local authorities still adopt such a hostile attitude towards LGBTs and persist in trying to confine them to the closet in such a big city.

While it's unrealistic to expect a country like China, with a strong conservative tradition, to change overnight, cities like Shanghai should definitely take the lead.

The fight for equal rights for LGBTs is not going to be easy. The recent Hollywood movie Milk tells of the uphill battle for gay rights in San Francisco in the 1970s through the story of gay activist Harvey Milk.

Shanghai has a lot to learn from its sister city of San Francisco, on tolerance and acceptance of people who are different from us.

(China Daily 06/16/2009 page8)