China rights: Gay people pledge not to enter into sham marriages

A social media campaign has taken off among China’s lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) community which sees members pledging not to enter into sham marriages with straight people.

Since last week, a number of users on popular microblogging network Sina Weibo have been posting selfies of themselves with the hashtag #I’m gay and won’t marry a straight person#.

Several parents of LGBT people have also posted pictures of themselves with signs declaring they would not pressure their children into marriage.

The campaign was started by LGBT rights group Pflag China.

Spokesman Zhou Ying told the BBC they had come up with the idea after noticing greater discussion in the media and online on gay rights and the issue of marriages in recent weeks.

Though homosexuality is not illegal in China, gay marriage is still not allowed. On Wednesday a judge ruled a gay couple could not register their marriage in a landmark case.

‘Treasure themselves’
Last week, a couple of articles in Chinese media – including this Tencent article (in Chinese) – highlighted the plight of women known as “tongqi”, who find themselves in sham marriages with gay men. That prompted much public sympathy for the women and criticism of the men, who were seen as cheats.

“This campaign is not meant as criticism of gay people who marry straight people,” said Zhou Ying.

“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.”

‘Like being pushed into a furnace’
Young people all over China face pressure to marry and start families early, but the problem is even more acute for gay men and lesbians, given conservative attitudes towards homosexuality.

One campaign participant, who wanted to be known as Peng Peng, said: “Many homosexuals because of various pressures get forced into marriages of convenience with straight people, or even real marriages.

“This sort of marriage situation is a form of disloyalty, for many gay people the great institution of marriage has really turned into love’s graveyard.”

Another participant, lesbian rights activist Han Haiming, posted a picture of herself at the age of 16 on Weibo, saying she had met her first girlfriend at that age.

She said: “If my parents forced me to marry a straight person, it would be akin to pushing me into a furnace.”

“On this point, my family has still been very understanding,” she added, saying she had come out to her parents long ago.

But others are not so lucky. She said she took part so that “we can let more people understand our sentiments, and give us the beginnings of respect”.

“With many LGBTs taking part [in such campaigns], the strength of our masses could at least let others see us with new eyes, and more importantly perhaps we can get the attention of relevant government agencies, and help us win a victory in the future for gay marriage,” she added.

‘Gay men, not monsters’
Kenneth Cheung, founder of LGBT rights group Rainbow China, told the BBC that the issue of “tongqi” appeared to have arisen in China due to gay men giving in to social pressure when they reach an older age and marrying straight women.

“I feel that this is a tragedy, both for gay men and these women,” he said.

He is urging more gay men to join the campaign as “firstly this would be a personal assertion – that we are gay men, not monsters. Also, it is a self-constraint, that even if society wishes to discriminate against us, we will not be willing to harm the innocent.

“I hope that when straight people see this, they would understand that the issue of LGBT rights closely affects them too, and thus garner more support for marriage equality.”

Questions raised
But the campaign has also had its detractors from within the community.

A Weibo user called Brother Mitao felt that the slogan inadvertently acknowledged the attitude that “tongqi” are the only victims in sham marriages.

“A hastily taken stand,” he said in a discussion on the hashtag. “Has it ended up proving the point of the news report that this alleged tongqi suffering is deeper [than the gay man’s]?”

He also pointed out that the deeper problem stemmed from prevailing societal attitudes about fatherhood and the prioritisation of the family unit. “Not opposing [these attitudes], just holding up these placards about not marrying, isn’t this strategy [setting the bar] very low?”

But another commenter replied: “It’s true that this method could be inappropriate, but at least it’s better than doing nothing. In the end it still has a positive meaning.

“The road to winning our rights is like feeling stones as you cross a river, if you don’t bravely try, in this kind of environment, when can we realise our final goal?”

by Tessa Wong, BBC News
Source – BBC News