In the shadows: Just 5% of LGBTI people in China are out the closet

A scene from the Chinese web series Addiction

A scene from the Chinese web series Addiction

In a clear indication that homosexuality remains a massive taboo in China, it’s been revealed that 95% of the nation’s LGBTI people remain in the closet.

This statistic was included in the results of a survey of more than 30,000 respondents from all provinces in China, released on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, on Tuesday.

It is the largest survey of the LGBTI community ever conducted in China.

The report by UNDP, Peking University Sociology Department and the Beijing LGBT Center found that many LGBTI people in China still live in the shadows, with only 5% of them willing to live their diversity openly.

Even within their own families, only 15% have come out, with the workplace remaining the last place where Chinese LGBTI people feel comfortable living openly.

The family is where most of the respondents experience discrimination and unfair treatment, followed by schools and in workplaces. Transgender people face the highest rate of discrimination within the LGBTI community.

Access to health and social services also remains difficult when one’s sexual orientation or gender diversity is known to, or even just suspected by, service providers, says the report.

“LGBTI people represent some of the most marginalised and vulnerable populations in Asia and the Pacific, including China,” said Agi Veres, Country Director of UNDP China.

“Attention to their needs is therefore essential if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, a key feature of which is the underlying principle and commitment to ‘leave no one behind’.”

Most importantly, however, the survey paints a country in transition, where the majority of people do not hold negative nor stereotypical views of LGBTI people, with young people being more open towards and accepting of sexual and gender diversity.

The report suggests that this, in many ways, represents an important opportunity for LGBTI people and depicts a society that could achieve rapid and profound change, especially if guided in the right direction by civil society, policymakers, academia, the media as well as LGBTI people themselves.

While homosexuality was legalised in China in 1997, LGBTI people have no specific protections from discrimination.

In April, an attempt to secure same-sex marriage rights through the courts in China failed after a judge dismissed a marriage equality case brought by a gay couple who sought to get married.

The depiction of homosexuality has also been banned on television in China by the country’s film and TV associations, under rules that describe it as an “abnormal behaviour”.

In November last year, some hospitals in China were reported to still be offering gay people electric shock therapy as a means to “cure” them of their homosexuality.

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