According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of 2010 is the Year of the Golden Tiger. It began on February 14, 2010, not many days after a Wilton Manors police officer was accused of manhandling a patron at a local gay bar.
The Chinese year so far has brought some extraordinary examples of the dawning of a new attitude from the Communist Government toward its gay citizens. It is a welcome and hopeful change.
On January 11, The British newspaper “The Guardian” reported on China’s first gay pageant with an article spread over five columns. The event is a striking sign of how far attitudes in China are changing and have changed. The confidence and pride of gay people is increasing.
Today, an emerging gay community is busting Chinese stereotypes. These days, there are gay support groups and web sites helping people explore their sexuality and meet potential partners.
There are gay venues now cropping up in most cities. Shanghai held its first Gay Pride week and in Beijing, campaigners call for same-sex marriages. There is no religious condemnation and anti-gay violence is rare.
A Mr. Gay China pageant was even planned for early January in Beijing. The winner would go to Norway for the finals of Worldwide Mr. Gay. It did not happen. The police shut down the contest hours before it was to open, but significantly, even if not realistically, they simply said that the nightclub hosting the event had failed to follow proper permitting procedures, and no exceptions would be made.
But what did not happen was as important as what happened. No one got arrested, humiliated, or hauled off in handcuffs. The police cited the bar for not having a license or permits. Change will be slow but it is in motion and gaining momentum.
In China, gay rights have been progressing for a decade now. A notable change occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s with the removal of “hooliganism” from the criminal law, a de facto decriminalization of homosexuality. In April 20, 2001, the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders formally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. We can’t get some American politicians to do that.
A few weeks ago the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica” reported on the first government-backed gay bar in southwestern Yunnan. What? A government backed gay bar? In China? That’s correct.
The Chinese Government explained that the reason behind the bar is to promote AIDS Awareness. The bar is meant to be an educational hot spot for folks to help address rising HIV rates in China’s Yunnan province. The city of Dali where the bar is located is on the top ten lists of Chinese cities with the largest number of HIV cases. The media flocked to the small city on opening night.
A local official actually stated: “We will not close it or raid it, we will support it”. Behind the plan is creating a safe space for LGBT people to gather in a country where homosexuality remains a tricky issue.
It is not enough for China to surpass our productivity and manufacturing output.
They are beginning to make progress on gay rights too. And what are we reporting about in the US of A?
We hear in community after community of the same old police recklessness and homophobia; the same cruel and unconstitutional conduct by law enforcement officials. You can hear about it at a local bar in South Florida, from Miami to Wilton Manors. You can also read in today’s paper what happened in Atlanta last fall. Publisher Norm Kent relates the story about the gross injustice of Atlanta gay bar raids, now in court. Did the police do there what they had to do or what they wanted to do? The police in China did better.
Lambda Legal is picking up the fight against Atlanta’s police force but that’s after the fact. Innocent people have been scarred for life and will never be the same. It could happen to you again, right here in South Florida. It has before. Study your history. It repeats itself.
Sadly, I have to ask, is it now safer to have a drink in a gay bar in China than in Atlanta? Or on Wilton Drive?
Too bad, too, because I need a Martini.