This semester I have been working at the Beijing LGBT Center. Before going to the center I was getting extremely excited to see how the LGBT community is thriving in Beijing. Not going to lie, I was not expecting much. Having learned about China’s reaction to the rise of the LGBT community and how it has mostly been negative, I was expecting to have a very small community with a small number of Chinese citizens that were still struggling to find a place in their country. Often feeling out of place even in American society, I was even more eager to share my experiences and learn from those around me in Beijing.
Working as a group leader at the center’s LGBTalk, I have had the great opportunity to guide, listen, and share in these people’s experiences. This is a group session that involves both Chinese and foreigners. Centered around a weekly theme, we begin our classes by discussing an article and a topic, i.e. fake marriages, gay terminology, etc., then we continue into smaller discussion groups led by the foreign volunteers. After a brief discussion we all regroup to further discuss topics and issues that arose in our mini-discussion groups.
First arriving at the center, I have to admit I was extremely nervous. I know that I am a confident and open person, but I had never participated in this sort of event, let alone led this style of discussion group. Upon entering the room, I was immediately put at ease. There were about 40 Beijingers who were welcoming me in and talking to me about my time in Beijing. The sheer fact that this small community exists in China is amazing. I was so warmed by the enthusiasm and zeal of these people and immediately felt at home. They have adopted this center as a safe place for them discuss their lives openly without the risk of judgment and ridicule, which I believe in a place like China is extremely important.
As our discussion about fake marriages began, I was inspired to hear all of these men and women, of all ages, sharing their experiences and opinions about a modern issue such as this. Some have personal experiences with regards to rise of fake marriages in China. I would love to share some of these stories with you, but as the LGBT Center advertizes itself as a safe and private space, sharing the personal stories outside of the group is not appropriate. But the comments that I heard were hopeful and excited for the future of the gay community in China. I was extremely thrilled to hear that one man said he believed that gay marriage could be seen in China in as little as 10 years. As gay marriage is trickling into American society, the optimism of this group that has been ridiculed and turned out I believe shows the strength and passion these people have for a cause they are living and breathing everyday.
Expecting to hear more negatives than positives about China’s dealings with the LGBT community, I am happy to say I was wrong. Rather than dwelling on the hardships of being gay in modern China, the people choose to focus on the future and the amazing parts of their lives today. The inspiration that I have felt from these people, who I now consider some of my friends, has given me great hope for the future of China’s LGBT community and their stories will be ones that will continue home with me.
by Reid Smith (Gettysburg College), Student Correspondent
Source – CET Acacemic Programs