An advocacy group that provides a safe space for the LGBTQ community in Beijing has become the latest to be shut down under a crackdown by the government of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“We regret to announce that due to factors beyond our control, the Beijing Gay Center will cease operations today,” read a notice posted on the center’s official WeChat account on Monday evening.
The Beijing Gay Center did not respond to a request for comment. The Ministry of Civil Affairs, which oversees nonprofits in China, did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
The group’s closure marks a major blow to an advocacy group that was once able to speak out about its LGBTQ rights work.
“They are not the earliest group, nor are they the largest, but because the Beijing Gay Center is in Beijing, it represents the gay movement in China,” said a Chinese rights activist who asked not to be identified due to security concerns. “In our political, economic and cultural center, there is this kind of organization. It is a symbol of the existence of the LGBT movement.”
The Beijing LGBT Center describes its mission as evolving; it started as a safe space for the community to host events. It then became an advocacy group aimed at “improving living conditions in sexually diverse communities”. They offer low-cost mental health counseling and publish a list of LGBTQ-friendly health professionals.
In its evolving mission, the center hosts public lectures, film screenings and other events. Mr. C, who kept his real name confidential to protect the privacy of his parents, is one of the center’s featured trans speakers. Mr. C is suing his former employer Let him go after the 8 day trial period. He claimed it was because of his gender expression. They also hosted Liu Peilin, a transgender woman in her 60s, who spoke about being ridiculed online for wearing women’s clothing.
Beijing Gay Center and Other Groups Continue to Publicly Promote Same-Sex Marriage and Other Rights even after a nationwide crackdown Human rights lawyer and activist started after Xi Jinping came to power in 2015.
Over the past few years, this limited space has shrunk even further.
A prominent group called LGBT Rights Advocacy China has filed strategic lawsuits to push for policy change and rights expansion, Closed in 2021The founder of the group was detained and the end of the group was a condition of his release, according to an activist close to the group. He declined to be named out of fear of government retaliation against the Chinese family.
In the face of constant pressure, groups sometimes fail to publicly inform the communities they serve of their politically sensitive events, creating confusion, he said.
Prior to the crackdown, LGBT Rights Advocacy China built a network of empathetic lawyers willing to help LGBTQ people with legal issues. They have run several visible campaigns across the country, pushing policy changes through targeted lawsuits, such as recognizing same-sex marriage.
Police pressure on human rights groups has increased over the past few years, the activist said. Police often invite LGBTQ groups to “tea” — a euphemism for informal meetings police use to track specific targets. This used to happen in public places, but it’s starting to happen in private spaces, like in front of activists’ homes. Police also began taking activists to police stations to receive the “tea,” the activist said.
LGBTQ organizations are often not officially registered because it is difficult for them to obtain government approval, and formally registered groups to work with them are under pressure. Sometimes groups, especially small ones, are shut down without a chance to tell the public, the activist said.
“It’s not just these few that we see, most of them are actually closed,” the activist said. “The pressure has been building. It never stops.”
July 2021, WeChat shuts down dozens of accounts LGBTQ topics run by college students and nonprofits. In response, some groups have changed their names and removed scrutiny-prone words like “gay” or “sexual minority,” though this has largely been ineffective.
Until Monday, the Beijing LGBT Center was still operating under scrutiny and mounting pressure. In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, the group conducted a nationwide survey on sexuality and gender in 2015 to provide a baseline for the difficulties faced by LGBTQ people living in China. The survey asked respondents about their access to social services, health care, and how social attitudes affect them.
In recent years, the group has focused on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Last week, the center published an article celebrating 15 years of work. “Beijing comrades have never had much money and very few staff, relying on hundreds of volunteers,” the article read.
“Their closure makes people feel very helpless. As groups large and small close down or stop holding events, people no longer see hope,” said another Chinese activist, who asked not to be identified for fear of government retaliation.
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