BEIJING (AP) — A 28-year-old transgender man who goes by the name of “Mr. C” has become the public face of the fight for job equality in China, where sexual and gender minorities are only beginning to emerge from virtual invisibility.
The man, who keeps his real name secret to protect his parents’ privacy, is fighting his dismissal from a medical testing center in court and is seeking a ruling stating that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
“On my shoulders I am carrying the hopes of many, many people,” said Mr. C, who’s been both praised and insulted since filing the country’s first suit against transgender job discrimination earlier this year.
“Many people are working toward (employment equality). I cannot let them down. There are many members in our group who are unwilling to or dare not step forward, but they are watching.”
While still relatively conservative, Chinese society has grown gradually more accepting of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in recent years, particularly among the younger generation. That’s encouraged some members of sexual and gender minorities to come forward and demand their legal rights, with mixed results.
In 2014, a Beijing court ruled “conversion therapy” intended to change gays’ sexuality to be illegal. A court in the central province of Hunan shot down an attempt by a gay couple to register their marriage in April.
Although never specifically outlawed, alternative expressions of sexuality were frowned upon following the 1949 establishment of the communist People’s Republic, which associated them with the corruption and decadence of the former imperial regime. Those caught up in police raids could be jailed on charges of hooliganism or even executed during particularly severe crackdowns.
In 2001, however, the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Police raids on LGBT gatherings largely came to a halt, as long as they remained low-profile. Empowered by the internet and social media, LGBT groups in different cities began networking, leading to calls for strong legal protections.
China has no law addressing employment discrimination, and efforts are ongoing to enact laws protecting minorities in the workplace.