When the government refused a request by Xiang Yuhan, a gay rights activist in the central province of Hunan, to set up a nongovernmental organization for homosexuals, he demanded an explanation under freedom of information rules.
Stamped with the red star of the state, the response came: Homosexuality was “against spiritual civilization construction” and “in violation of morals,” the Hunan Province Civil Affairs Department said, in a rare demonstration of an official position on homosexuality from a branch of the Chinese state, which usually adopts a “don’t tell and we won’t ask” attitude.
The response, dated Nov. 26, came days before the release of government figures showing a rapid rise in H.I.V. infections among younger people, especially homosexuals, highlighting a health risk that activists say needs to be addressed with greater openness and social acceptance.
And the refusal came despite a new goal in the recently concluded Third Plenum of the Communist Party. In a communique listing 15 key reform areas, No. 12, “Social Management,” promised to “stimulate the vitality of social organizations,” understood as organizations operating outside of the party.
“We wanted to register our group, Changsha Comrades Center, to hold activities to combat prejudice and spread education and understanding in society, to show that gays and straight people are the same,” Mr. Xiang said in a telephone interview.
All nongovernmental organizations in China must apply for legal status through their local branch of the Civil Affairs Ministry. While China has many thousands of nongovernmental organizations, many are unofficial, as registration can be hard to achieve and expensive. An alternative route — to register as a business — subjects an organization to business taxes, creating a financial burden that can crimp its activities.
“If you register and become official, there is so much more you can do. You don’t have to pay taxes. You can hold events in public,” Mr. Xiang said. “We wanted to tell the truth with this. If you fib about who you are perhaps you can register, but if you tell the truth you cannot,” he said.
But it was the government’s explanation in the freedom of information statement that really rankled, he said.
“Their response was so illogical. I wasn’t asking for the right to marry. I was asking to register my group as an NGO,” he said.
Calls to the Hunan Province Civil Affairs Department in Changsha were not picked up, after an initial call asking for comment was redirected to another number.
In its response dated Nov. 26, a copy of which was seen by this newspaper, the department gave two reasons for its refusal.
“Marriage must be between a man and a woman and the Marriage Law does not recognize homosexual relations,” it said. “Therefore there is no legal basis for setting up a social organization for homosexuals.”
It also read, “Social organizations must respect the constitution, the law, regulations and policies and may not violate social morals and customs, and homosexuality contradicts our country’s traditional culture and spiritual civilization construction so a group cannot be set up.”
“Nowhere in the constitution, laws or regulations of the state does it say homosexuality goes against social morals or customs,” Mr. Xiang wrote in his response to the government, which was also seen by this newspaper.
Nor was homosexuality un-Chinese, he wrote, supplying a dozen examples of homosexuality in Chinese history from core texts such as the Records of the Grand Historian, Tales of Yanzi and texts from the Warring States period.
Hu Zhijun, executive director of the Guangzhou-based gay group “Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” or PFLAG, called the government’s response “ridiculous,” but said PFLAG was unregistered for exactly that reason.
“They think that if you do public work to explain homosexuality, then everyone will become gay. What they don’t get is that the gay community is already there,” he said.
For those in the know, there was a little joke in the way the government, in all its seriousness, addressed Mr. Xiang: “Comrade Xiang Yuhan.” “Comrade” is widely-used slang for “homosexual” in China.
by Didi Kirsten Tatlow
Source – The New York Times