Photo by Eric Yue
Kenneth Tan is Shanghaiist’s editor-at-large and resident homo. Since handing over the reins of this website to Elaine Chow, Kenneth has been living a quiet life selling sexy male lingerie, and building a gay social network. He also serves on the committee of ShanghaiLGBT, and is one of the masterminds behind this year’s much-talked-about Shanghai Pride. While 2009 was a big year for gay China, five events stood out from among the rest for the sheer amount of attention they received from international media, says Kenneth. Here they are in chronological order:
1. Gay marriage advocacy comes out on Valentine’s Day [Feb 14]
When a small group of gay marriage advocates decided to stage a public wedding of two couples (one male, one female) in Beijing, they not only turned heads on Qianmen Avenue, their pictures went out to all four corners of the world as international newswires and papers lapped them up. This was gay China’s perfect photo opportunity — while same-sex marriage was being hotly debated around the world and the gay community in the US was still reeling from the outcome of the Prop 8 vote, pictures arrived from the world’s largest communist country of gay couples getting married on the streets. The wedding was, of course, nothing more than just a staged act with no legal significance, but what made this event remarkable was the ‘harmonious’ nature of the entire demonstration — police did not intervene and allowed the event to go on completely uninterrupted.
2. The inaugural Shanghai Pride [June 7-14]
There is a grain of truth to the generalisation that Beijing gays are ballsier than the party queens of Shanghai when it comes to activism and demonstrations like the one above. Well, here’s one event that showed that the LGBT community in this city can also rise up to the occasion when duty calls. This June, they put together mainland China’s first ever pride season, consisting of art shows, film screenings, sports events, panel discussions and parties that attracted about 3,000 people in a week, including some that had flown in from other parts of China. While domestic Chinese-language media were not allowed to report on this event, Shanghai Pride made it to the front page of China Daily which lauded it as “an event of profound significance for the country and the world”. And then, for no reason at all, local Shanghai authorities started visiting venues and several events were shut down as a result. Eventually, with the intense media spotlight on the event, authorities found it wiser to manage this event with a lighter touch instead of totally clamping down on it, and the week’s festivities were allowed to end on a high with an all-day bash that drew in over 2,000. Never mind that there was no marching on the streets, and no fancy parades — this was their time to come out, not just as individuals, but together as a community.
3. Beijing Queer Film Festival [June 18-22]
The fourth edition of the Beijing Queer Film Festival, was allowed to take place this year from start to finish without any intervention from the police. This was a huge improvement from what happened in 2001 when police shut down the then-named Beijing Gay and Lesbian Film Festival before it could even begin. The organisers, film director and lecturer Cui Zi’en and his proteges have since exchanged the words “gay” and “lesbian from the name of the festival with the word “queer”, reasoning that this would attract less attention from the police. They have also moved the event to Songzhuang Art District, located in Beijing’s outskirts. The low-key approach appears to have worked, but that has all come at a price. Attendance this year is lower than some of the festivals they have held in previous years. This, however, has not deterred organisers from subsequently taking their films for mini film festivals around China to feed the growing consciousness that is now emerging amongst China’s LGBT community. Watch the interview by Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei with the organisers of the BQFF here.
4. The Guangzhou confrontation: Gays 1 Police 0 [August 27]
Over 100 gay men protested in Guangzhou’s People’s Park over actions taken by the police to push them out of the park. The west side of this park is a hangout for members of the local gay community, mostly less well-off working-class individuals who prefer to come here in search of their partners instead of going out to a gay bar, where they have to spend money. The police used reports of petty crimes such as robbery and harrassment to justify their keeping homosexuals out of the park but representatives from local gay groups responded by saying that gay people were the victims, not the perpetrators of those crimes. In any case, the park was public space and the police had no good reason to shoo anyone away. The intense but non-violent standoff eventually ended with a police retreat and it did not take long before gay internet chatrooms were abuzz with news of what happened. This was the first such confrontation that ended up with a score of Gays 1 Police 0, and those in Guangzhou were applauded for standing up for their rights.
5. The government-sponsored “gay bar” in Dali, Yunnan [Dec 1]
Yunnan officials blew our minds earlier this month with their uncanny ability to think outside the box in a move that promises to redefine “socialism with Chinese characteristics” — they’ve spent ¥120,000 in public funds to open up a “gay bar” in picturesque and touristy Dali, one of China’s top ten cities most afflicted by Aids. According to the bar’s non-gay manager, Zhang Jianbo (who really is a health official), beverages would not be sold in the “bar”, but gay men would be taught about safe sex practises here. Unfortunately, on Dec 1, when the bar was scheduled to be opened in conjunction with World Aids Day, the venue remained shuttered as volunteers disappeared, freaked out by the media exposure. Last week, the bar finally opened its doors, this time with a simple ceremony that involved little fanfare. How successful the venue will be over the long term remains to be seen (we’ll admit we’re skeptical), but the very idea of a government-sponsored gay bar sure did capture the imaginations of people everywhere and caused more than a few sparks to fly around the world.