Sunday, July 21, 2013
I just had an interesting lunch with one of China’s few openly gay lawyers, who also engages in activism on behalf of the LGBT community. Here are some interesting points from our conversation:
- We discussed the differences between antigay prejudice in the United States and in China. I asked whether he would agree with the idea that while in the United States one tended to have wide variation between two extremes – increasing toleration for same-sex marriage on the one hand and murderous hatred by some people on the other – in China there was a more widespread but much shallower kind of antigay prejudice. (Here and elsewhere I’m going to use “gay” and “LGBT” pretty much interchangeably, and the former should not be understood to exclude the latter.) He agreed that this was generally true, but noted that this was very possibly because gay people were simply not highly visible in China, and that once gays became more visible there might be a strong reaction from people who felt threatened. A fair point; let’s hope this does not come to pass. Still, I think that we can see extreme homophobia in many eras of European history when open homosexuality was virtually unthinkable (and therefore not plausible as a cause for extreme homophobia), but not in Chinese history. Come to think of it, it’s hard to find ideological extremism of any kind in traditional Chinese culture. When was the last time Chinese killed each other over religious differences?
- The LGBT community’s interactions with government are mostly with health departments. This is unfortunate, since that encourages thinking about homosexuality as a health problem, not (say) a civil rights issue. Officials are generally not hostile, but don’t see a need for laws protecting LGBTs from discrimination or violence on the grounds that they’re not seeing a lot of discrimination or violence going on. If my interlocutor is right, though, that may well be only because LGBTs are not (yet) highly visible.
- One discouraging part of our conversation: he noted that in general it was the house churches that were the most visible and outspoken homophobes in China. Generally Christian parents in the house churches, for example, have a much harder time accepting gay children than non-Christian Chinese parents (and you can imagine how hard it must be for them, in a culture that places such importance on transmission of the family name). This is truly unfortunate, because there doesn't seem to be anything about Christianity that requires homophobia of its adherents; many Christians manage to be so without obsessing over people's private sex lives. Unlike homosexuality, homophobia is a choice. I observed that many weiquan lawyers had converted to Christianity and wondered whether they had adopted the antigay views of the house churches as well. Unfortunately, it appears that some of them have. Take Wang Yi (王怡), for example – a constitutional law scholar and distinguished weiquan lawyer who’s now a pastor in a house church in Chengdu. He and his weibo followers are not, shall we say, sympathetic to equal rights for LGBTs. (See, for example, this post, which predicts that allowing gay marriage will lead to the destruction of marriage as an institution, or this one, which says that homosexuality is a form of idolatry, or this one, which says that homosexuals are sinners who will be judged - one presumes unfavorably - if they are not saved.) With China having so many human rights problems and the weiquan community facing so many difficulties, it seems unfathomably boneheaded to waste time and energy, and alienate potential allies, by worrying about what people want to do with their private parts. This kind of obsessive homophobia has no roots in traditional Chinese culture; it’s imported. But when shopping for values to import from the West, why on earth would one want to line up first at the hate counter?