Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pride But...

...No Parade

If the 2008 Olympic Games was Beijing's coming-out party, last week it was finally Shanghai's turn. The city of 20 million held the country's first ever gay pride festival.

Shanghai Pride featured seven days of film screenings, plays and panel discussions capped, on June 13, by a blowout bash. There were drag shows, drumming and (symbolic) same-sex weddings. But there was no parade. Public gatherings are verboten, and organizers decided it wasn't worth the risk.

Though references to same-sex pairings dot the Chinese literary cannon, the People's Republic has taken a hard line on homosexuality. Sodomy was decriminalized in 1997, but it was not until 2001 that the Chinese Psychiatric Association ruled homosexuality was not, in fact, a mental illness. For the majority of China's estimated 30 million homosexuals, discrimination, isolation and stigma persist.

The government's hands-off approach is sometimes called the Triple No Policy: no approval, no disapproval, no promotion. It is the Chinese equivalent of "don't ask don't tell," an opaque tactic that critics claim leaves both activists and ordinary people caught in an invisible web of rules that dictate when and how you can and -- or can't -- be gay.

It's a start