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Equality
QuickTake

How LGBTQ Life in China Has Gotten Tougher Under Xi

A gay student poses with a rainbow flag in Beijing.

A gay student poses with a rainbow flag in Beijing.

Photographer: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

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China’s LGBTQ community has long had to deal with not only societal prejudice but also pressure from the state: censorship, surveillance and intimidation, at times even detention by police. During the early 2000s, though, it looked like things might be changing. Gay clubs flourished in big cities and community groups sprang up to offer social services. These days, the feeling has faded. While it’s difficult to point to any direct crackdown, the reality is that over the past decade it’s become tougher to be gay in China. That’s seen as a consequence of a broader push by President Xi Jinping to mold a more conservative, conformist China. 

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, but there are no explicit legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Same-sex couples are not allowed to marry or adopt children. Advocates have had some successes in court arguing that the rights to equality and dignity in the constitution apply to LGBTQ people, like when a Beijing court in 2020 ruled that protecting a transwoman against workplace discrimination “should be within the meaning” of the law. The Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homesexuality per se from its list of mental illnesses in 2001, calling it “not necessarily abnormal.” Still, a 2020 report from the United Nations human rights office found so-called conversion therapies still being provided at public hospitals. People living with HIV/AIDS or those seeking sex-reassignment surgery have reported facing discrimination from healthcare workers.