Meng Fanyu, the new Mr. Gay China, is a good illustration of how far the communist country has progressed on LGBT rights over the past few years.
The last time organizers tried to hold the contest, the government shut it down. Six years later, no one raised a finger in opposition. The group hosting the event credit the change in attitude to staying non-political and the new pro-LGBT positions taken by large corporations worldwide.
“This competition has no links to politics; we just focus on creating fun events,” Kim Sun, one of the organizers told The Guardian. She added that the event had focused on “being healthy, positive and energetic.”
Meng, 27, is somewhat of a novelty in China. Social taboos still keep most Chinese men in the closet – including some of his competitors on stage – but Meng is out and proud.
“Something like this event is a great platform to raise awareness of the LGBT community,” he said after winning. “Many people don’t really know what LGBT is, and coming out can still be difficult, so you really have to prove yourself to be an upstanding person.”
Steven Paul Bielinski, the founder of the Chinese non-profit WorkForLGBT, told The Guardian the change in attitude is being driven by the business community. The Chinese government may not understand human rights, but they do understand the economic benefits of shifting their position on LGBT rights.
“Whereas just a few years ago anything related to LGBT was viewed as potentially destabilising, the growing number of firms targeting the Pink Market today is something much more understandable to officialdom,” he said. “Now it’s become a business issue – and business is something the government understands.”
The country continues to go back and forth in the struggle for equality. New guidelines classify homosexuality as “immoral behavior” and bans it from television. While a judge recently ruled against a gay couple seeking the right to legally wed, the government had barred couples from seeking recognition previously. Earlier this year, a transgender woman sued a former employer for discrimination in another first for the country.
“Next I want to go to Mr Gay World,” Meng says. “ I want to stand on the world stage and say to people, ‘I’m gay, and I’m from China,’ and show them that the LGBT movement in China is vibrant and active.”
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