China’s government has ruled out any move to legalize same-sex marriage, and many Chinese gays and lesbians remain in the closet, yet there are multiple signs of greater awareness and acceptance of LGBT people in the world’s most populous nation.
Homosexuality was formally removed from the list of mental health conditions in 2001 and LGBT activists have become steadily more outspoken in recent years, even though authorities remain wary of any human rights organizing outside the direct control of the ruling Communist Party.
Among the modest signs of change: A recent video advertisement for car-hailing app operator Didi Chuxing included a gay couple holding hands in the back of a taxi. The live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” was shown in Chinese theaters without any particular concern for the implicitly gay character that had drawn criticism from conservative religious groups in the U.S. and other countries.
In January, a court ruled that a health center had illegally fired a transgender employee who had worked for them for just a few days, though it cleared the center of discrimination. It was believed to be China’s first transgender employment discrimination case, and followed a string of cases involving LGBT people that were accepted by courts last year.
In Shanghai, there was an apparent first recently in a long-established tradition, the city’s weekend marriage market at which parents try to find partners for their sons and daughters: This year, some parents of LGBT adults attended. However, after receiving a cold reception from parents of heterosexual offspring, they were eventually told by police to leave.
In April 2016, scores of gay rights activists rallied outside a courthouse in the central city of Changsha to support a male couple who brought the first legal challenge to Chinese law limiting marriage rights to opposite sex couples. Although the case was dismissed, the sizable public turnout for the hearing and coverage by usually conservative Chinese media appeared to reflect the shifting social attitudes in China on the topic of sexual orientation.
While openly gay celebrities are rare, Jin Xing, a transgender woman, has found success as a television talk show host and talent show judge.
Associated Press writers Louise Watt and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.