This weekend saw the opening of Shanghai’s very own Pride Festival; a fantastic evening by all accounts. The first of its kind in mainland China, and now in its second year, the festival aims to promote Diversity, Unity and Harmony. Promoting more acceptance of the LGBT community could not be more relevant given the recent spate of teen suicides that have plighted the US after several teens committed suicide after suffering anti-gay bullying (In memory of those teens, today is ‘Wear Something Purple’ day!). Gay teens, as a group, are often overlooked, even by the LGBT community itself. Whilst most events catering for the LGBT community are centred around bars and alcohol, not only do teens need to deal with their sexuality as a minor, but they also struggle to find a place to be themselves and to meet other teens going through the things that they are.
Where: Venue to be decided
When:Friday 29th at 6.30pm
RSVP: RSVP to [email protected]
Young members of the LGBT community are statistically in the two most at risk of suicide groups; given the sky high suicide rates in China, the potential danger is rather worrying. Luckily for gay teens, Shanghai has its very own LGBT youth organisation. We caught up with organisers of Shanghai’s very own LGBT Youth group, Demi (18) and Taylor (17) to find out exactly what they’re all about.
So, can you give us a brief introduction to the group? Where did it all start?
Demi: Well basically, the group started about one year ago, a friend and I began inviting other gay teens from some of the other international schools and then we eventually that filtered out over the course of the year.
Taylor: We are a network for like minded teens. We a teen from almost every international school; almost every international school in Shanghai has a gay teen.
Demi: As international schools are private schools, it can be really hard for teens to meet like minded people, that’s why our group is so important so people realise that they aren’t alone.
Who runs the group; is it just the two of you or do the members get involved in the organisation?
Taylor: It’s a little bit of both, a lot of our friends are part of ‘the group’, so we don’t just see each other at meetings. Basically we are a circle of friends that get together and we invite new people; every time we meet there will be at least 2 or 3 new people turn up. It’s a great way to meet people.
Demi: Yeah, some kids are in college or others doing a semester abroad so we have a wide group of people, and we’re not just for gay teens, everyone is welcome.
Taylor: When I came here last year I thought I was the only one in the world and I was just blown away by the fact there is this entire society of gay teens. It’s a good feeling when you know you’re not alone.
So is it fair to say that it’s quite an underground group?
Taylor: yeah, it is really underground; like we don’t really advertise.
Demi: Well, no, we do advertise, but …..
Taylor: It’s hard, especially as some schools are religious schools. That also makes it hard to increase awareness. I know a lot of gay teens that won’t come in case people find out, so we need to strike a balance, if it’s too well advertised then it’s in the spotlight and people won’t want to come.
Demi: A lot of people are just really scared, it’s such a hard thing to come out; even to yourself. I know one girl who won’t come in case her friends find out. So her involvement ends at e-mails.
How do you reach people?
Demi: It’s also work of mouth. We ask around, we ask friends if they know any other gay kids and if they do then to let them know about us.
If someone was to find out about your group, and came along on their own; nervous, scared, worried, how would they feel?
Demi: They would feel pretty accepted.
Taylor: Yeah, you would definitely feel comfortable. We always have a long table so that everyone can get to know each other, we don’t like group old and new members, we all talk, it’s a community feel. We’re all in the same boat.
Demi: At the beginning we have like an AA style introduction, people can introduce themselves and tell everyone a bit about them.
Taylor: They don’t have too!
Demi: Yeah, you don’t have too, only if you feel comfortable too.
As a group, it’s fair to say that LGBT Youth are often overlooked. Many LGBT events are focussed around clubs/alcohol/bars. What type of events do you guys organise?
Taylor: It’s definitely hard being young AND gay.
Demi: We still ‘go out’, but it’s hard.
Taylor: If we meet people out, they ask how old you are and are like put off with even speaking to you.
Demi: The problem is, we are trying to meet more LGBT friends but we aren’t accepted as we are younger.
Taylor: Youth need somewhere to go, so we try to make events youth orientated, saying that though, we have some people who are slightly older who attend sometimes.
Demi: We hold dinners, socials, networking etc
Taylor: Sometimes it’s just like email support, I emailed Demi’s friend when I first arrived and was in touch via that for a while. A lot of what we do is social networking but it’s also about having a sanctuary and having someone to talk to.
Do you work with any other organisations? What kind of advice could you offer someone if they contacted you?
Demi: We help people, however they need our help. We can put people in contact with others.
Taylor: That’s right, we know loads of different organisations so you know, if some people are afraid to come to an event we can just chat via email, it’s a friendly ‘face’ to speak to right.
Demi: We would tell them about our own experiences, invite them to our events help them in whatever way they need it. We’re going to out anyone or pressure them.
Taylor: Everyone deals with coming to terms with their sexuality differently, we can offer to meet them, hang out, grab a coffee, introduce them to friends and we invite them to our dinners. Some people are too scared to come to dinners and just want to leave it at emails.
Do you think that the attitude towards homo/transsexuality in Shanghai is reflective of the rest of China? What do you think is the next big mile stone in LGBT rights in China?
Taylor: Shanghai is pretty open and accepting.
Demi: The international community means you around people of different races, from different countries, so sexuality is just like another difference in a long line of differences.
Taylor: It’s a great feeling really. If you went out of Shanghai or Beijing then you would encounter a lot of problems. Older generations are set in their ways, you know; get married, have kids. Shanghai Pride is proving what China can be and what it can do, but it’s going to take a while, it’s not going to progress too quickly, all the politics have to be dealt with.
Demi: The government is the obviously the biggest problem. Also, whilst gay rights are an important issue, I think there are more human rights issues to deal with first.
Tell us when your next event is, anything planned for Pride?
Taylor: We’ve had an email, and we are working on something.
Demi: We are definitely going to get involved, and it will be added to the pride schedule so it will be advertised via Pride.
Taylor: We are having another meal though, Friday 29th of October.
Demi: It will most likely be at Whisk; it’s delicious there!
The LGBT Youth Group’s dinner will be held on Friday 29th at 6.30pm. The venue is still to be decided and you can RSVP through e-mail at [email protected] Don’t forget though, not only is there the LGBT Youth group dinner to look forward too, but there are also 3 more weeks of LGBT activities to enjoy!