UNDP hosts Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender In Asia China Community Dialogue

18 Aug 2013

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Today saw the conclusion of a three day event in which UNDP hosted a China Community Dialogue on the theme of Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) in Asia.  The first day of the dialogue was held in the UNDP Compound while the second and third day were held in a Beijing Hotel.

Approximately 70 participants were invited to the event, including government representatives from the Supreme People’s Court and the Family Planning Association, key leaders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) non-governmental organizations from across the country, representatives of marginalized groups, UN agencies, lawyers, academic researchers, media persons, and agencies that work on the intersecting areas of LGBT and women/disability rights.  A focused effort was made to include a considerable number of representatives from distant, rural  and often under-represented provinces such as Tibet, as well as people living with HIV, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.

The dialogue discussed the country situation in the following domains: health, media, family affairs, community development, law enforcement, employment, and education.  It was a comprehensive overview of the social, cultural and legal environment where Chinese LGBT people live and LGBT NGOs operate.  LGBT representative Tongge delivered a keynote speech that the community in China needs strategic planning in order to lead itself out of the current chaotic situation.  UNDP China Country Director-Christopher Bahuet and UNDP-APRC Regional Manager, a.i. Clifton Cortez both mentioned the important message that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered in March 2013 at the UN headquarters on the importance of tackling violence against LGBT people, decriminalizing consensual same-sex relationships, banning discrimination, and educating the public.  In addition, both Bahuet and Cortez reiterated the United Nations’ commitment to advance LGBT human rights in China.  This meeting is the first stage of a strategic planning process for the community in China to plan for the future.

Despite the seemingly progressive achievements in recent years such as the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1997 and the removal of homosexuality from the official list of mental disorders in 2001, LGBT people are largely invisible to the general public and mainstream media and are frequently demonized and stigmatized as abnormal and diseased.  Being LGBT in China is not illegal; however, no anti-discrimination laws exist to protect them from being fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation, no family laws exist to grant co-habitation rights for couples, they do not have the right to adopt children, and no marriage laws protect co-habited LGBT couples from jointly owning property.  The list goes on.  In addition, films with LGBT themes are often categorized as pornography and banned from theaters and LGBT featured publications can rarely be published via official venues for the same reason. Transgender individuals’ educational credentials are not recognized by the government after they change their biological gender/sex.

After the public event on the first day at the UNDP-China office, the dialogue continued into the weekend (Aug 17-18) at a local hotel, where the focus was on dialogues within the LGBT community.  UNDP China partnered with a local NGO, the Beijing Gender and Health Institute, to strengthen the process with this further two days of community dialogue.  Supported by the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundation (OSF), these two days of community dialogue included a larger number of NGOs and CBOs from all over China, with over 140 participants actively taking part.  Discussions ranged from discrimination within the community, muted voices of transgender and bisexual groups, the political divide between people living with HIV and the LGBT community, and how to submit UNP reports.  Recommendations coming out of the three day consultation included legally establishing same-sex unions in China, collaborating with other NGOs that work on disability rights and women’s rights, working closely with school teachers to mainstream LGBT items into the curriculum, and initiating strategic planning for the whole community, among other issues.

The China Community Dialogue was part of Being LGBT in Asia, a groundbreaking joint initiative between UNDP and USAID launched on International Human Rights Day in 2012.  The project is implemented in China, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Being LGBT in Asia is working with LGBT communities, universities, and human rights organizations to gain insights into the challenges and successes of LGBT communities in Asia. UNV LGBT human rights officer Xu Wenxu worked with prominent activists across China (including Zhenli, Xu Bin, Tongge, Zhang BeiChuan) to organize the 2013 China LGBT Community Dialogue.