News (World)

China shuts down Beijing’s LGBT Center as part of increasing repression of LGBTQ+ people

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping Photo: Shutterstock

On Monday, Chinese authorities shut down one of the last, most visible signs of LGBTQ+ activism in China: the LGBT Center in Beijing.

It’s the latest, and one of the most symbolic, acts of censorship in a years-long campaign to erase the LGBTQ+ community from Chinese society.

The effort began in earnest in 2015, with the ascension of Xi Jinping to power.

“They are not the first group, nor are they the largest, but because Beijing LGBT Center was in Beijing, it represented China’s LGBT movement,” one Chinese activist told ABC News, requesting anonymity. “In our political, economic, and cultural center, to have this type of organization, it was a symbol of the LGBT movement’s presence.”

A notice on the Center’s WeChat account Monday night confirmed the closure: “We very regretfully announce, due to forces beyond our control, the Beijing LGBT Center will stop operating today.”

Days before, the Center posted an article celebrating 15 years of work in the Chinese capital. The Center’s opening coincided with the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, an opportunity Chinese leadership used to counter the country’s negative reputation around human rights.

In 2015, the Center worked with the United Nations Development Program to conduct an unprecedented nationwide survey on sexuality and gender. They’ve hosted film screenings, outreach events, and a long list of public speakers, including “Mr. C” and Liu Peilin, a transgender man and woman, respectively, who spoke openly about the difficulties associated with being trans in China.

The Center evolved over its short history from a community gathering space to the headquarters for the well-known advocacy group LGBT Rights Advocacy China.

That group built a network of allied lawyers across the country and initiated nationwide campaigns pushing for policy changes, like recognizing same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion, through targeted lawsuits.

The organization was shut down in 2021, when the founder was detained and authorities demanded the group be dismantled as a condition of his release. He has since relocated abroad.

Since Xi came to power, the crackdown on LGBTQ+ identity has been methodical and relentless.  

In July, 2021, WeChat, the dominant social media platform in China, shut down dozens of accounts run by students and non-profits identified as sympathetic to LGBTQ+ causes, prompting a chill on free expression of LGBTQ+ views. Terms like “gay” and “sexual minority” have disappeared from public view.

One tactic authorities have used is inviting LGBTQ+ advocates to “drink tea” with police, the activist explained. These unofficial, initially friendly meetings are used by police to track organizations and their members and recruit informers. Police convene the meetings in public spaces. Then, pressure on activists increases, in front of activists’ homes or at the local police station.

“Beijing LGBT never had much money, and very few staffers. It was all dependent on hundreds of volunteers,” the Center’s anniversary message read.

Now it’s the latest casualty of the government’s inexorable effort to dismantle all organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights.

“The ones we’ve seen aren’t just these few, but actually the majority have shut down,” the activist said. “The pressure has continuously grown. It’s never stopped.”

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