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Diversity and Hospitality at Beijing LGBT Center

Beijing LGBT Center has promoted positive and healthy concepts about people with different sexual orientation, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people since its founding in February 2008.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

12th October 2010 05:57

Alessia Valenza | ILGA Asia

Distinguished from clamorous, crowded pubs, this is a quiet and peaceful place. On the wall, there are over 30 photos, all featuring people with a big smile on their faces, showcasing "friendliness to LGBT people."

"We intend to provide all visitors with feelings of safety, and more importantly, a sense of community," Fan Popo, the executive director of Beijing LGBT Center, said.

Ma Yuan, a volunteer here for 2 months, said she is straight. "I’ve always been interested in the LGBT group and hope to do something meaningful for them," she said.


Beijing LGBT Center has promoted positive and healthy concepts about people with different sexual orientation, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people since its founding in February 2008.

People might feel surprised when knowing that some volunteers here are not LGBT themselves. "As an NGO group, the financial crisis is always there; we sometimes even have a hard time paying our three employees here. So it’s essential for us to have volunteers’ assistance. They are here for different reasons – for semester reports, for caring about their LGBT friends, for personal curiosity," said Fan.

As a minority group, LGBT people in China need recognition, especially of those different from them. Fan said they are eager to communicate with the straight community. "There’s a statistic saying that 10 percent of people in the world are LGBT, while we have 10 percent heterosexual volunteers here. This fact has verified that a positive interaction within different groups is taking place," he added.

Some people, joining in LGBT activities for the first time, surprisingly discovered an emotional exit here. "Because you know… most [heterosexual] people aren’t able to accept either the group or the concept of LGBT. Feeling deeply suppressed and in pain, the solution they found was to secretly take part in LGBT activities. Possibly being overwhelmed by an unprecedented feeling of safety, they then got out of the closet for the first time, right here in the LGBT Center," Fan said.

Tao Li, the administrative manager of the LGBT Center, added: "Some elder Chinesemales, under the pressure of social manners, got married and suffered from the unwanted relationship." <>


But this seemingly open atmosphere can’t conceal the truth that homosexuality is still stigmatized. According to the regulations of the state administration of radio film and television, programs concerning obscene sexual implications should never be broadcast, this definition including depictions of homosexuality.

Azusa Yamashita, the chief editor of Japan Gay News, who visited Beijing this September, stopped by the LGBT Center. She contrasted the situation in China to that in Japan and to other nations she has visited. "The Chinese government always keeps their eye on what these activists do. Their activities then become underground in China; never allowed to go public. In Japan, on the contrary, except for extreme pornography or something like that, LGBT people can say what they want or publish any kind of LGBT news."

Fan said the Chinese government has tried every effort to intervene in homosexual culture, worrying their culture might negatively influence the concept of moral values. "Yet sometimes this has resulted in stigmatization."

So which might be the most LGBT-friendly country on earth? Yamashita, frowning, said: "It’s really hard to say. For example, South Africa has a really nice constitution and they have prohibition of discrimination based on all different groups, including sexual orientation. They also have same-sex martial arts [in South Africa]."

"In reality, however, lesbians are raped for being lesbians; gays are smashed or attacked by religious people on the street," Yamashita continued. "Generally speaking, Europe is a good place. But there’ve always been some reports about homophobia. I think there’s a statistic showing an increasing number of homophobic cases in Europe, even though Europe is known to be the
world’s most LGBT-friendly place. So… well… it’s really hard to say."

In the Beijing LGBT Center, there are about seven activities every week, as diverse as choirs, speeches, movies, and an English corner. Each one attracts an average of at least 20 participants. "Every week, we can expect 200 or so people coming to visit the LGBT Center, joining our events," said Fan.

Attributed to the careful control of the LGBT board members, the LGBT Center hasn’t confronted any specific difficulties. "We’ve avoided any possibilities that may arouse official rejections. Each time, our board members carefully consider about the feasibility of the activities."

However, within all the activities, most participants are males. Yamashita’s speech may be able to somehow explain this situation. Her presentation was mainly about gay people, since there is not enough data just about lesbians, although she and her comrades are striving to establish a more complete database.

The last great minority

Among LGBT people, there is a much more unique minority, transgender people. They are facing an unimaginably difficult condition. In some cases, they are not being accepted by either the homosexual or heterosexual community, transgender people can be sharply discriminated against.

Fan’s still looking on the bright side, considering that discrimination results from ignorance. Thus, mutual understanding is urgently required. The Center is also planning to have more activities featuring transgender people in the future, to reach a more culturally diversified equality.

Fighting for the rights of transgender people, Yamashita had an unpleasantly surprising experience. Last year, she attended an international conference about women’s rights at the United Nations in New York City. She would like to work for the rights of lesbians and transgender people. "Transgender males to females can be discriminated against because they are not 100 percent female, while transgender female to male people can also be discriminated against because they are biologically female." She fought to eliminate all the false discriminations against all the "women."

However, those experts in the meeting, unsure whether transgender people can be seen as women, turned down Yamashita’s suggestions thoroughly. "They thought LGBT issues are politically controversial, so they can’t take any position." She felt pretty much rejected when the attendees "are not sure if I am part of what they mentioned."

Xiao Hei, the main volunteer at Les Magazine, a Beijing-based lesbian magazine, specifically distinguishes transgender people from homosexual people. "Lesbians, gays and bisexuals have difficulties in sexual orientation, while we [transgender] have problems in gender identity. We are by no means the same group." Xiao Hei, physically female but mentally male, has started a non-limitation group to establish an organization especially for transgender people.

"Being transgender is a vague concept. In a narrow sense, it only refers to those who want to do transsexual surgery. However, broadly speaking, people having trouble with gender identity, including transvestites, are defined as  the transgender," Xiao Hei clarifies.

In China, LGBT’s low visibility has formed misunderstandings about this group. Fan Popo, as a representative of this marginalized group, is looking forward to more chances to portray a more comprehensive portrait of LGBT people.

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