By Alex Temblador
Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997 and soon after removed from their list of mental illnesses in 2001. The only major gay rights victory in a Chinese court came in December when a court ruled in favor of a gay man, Yang Teng, who sued a clinic for giving him electroshock therapy to “cure” him of his sexuality. With AIDS researcher Zhang Beichuan estimating that there are 30 million gays and lesbians in China, it surprising that LGBT rights are mostly not acknowledged by the government. However, the government isn’t the only thing that has kept LGBT rights at bay. The importance of “family” and “tradition” among Chinese households has also prevented the LGBT rights movement to take off. In 2013, Pew released survey results that showed only 21% of the country in favor of accepting homosexuality.
And yet, some parents are trying to fight this, to show Chinese citizens that their LGBT children have a place in their families and their tradition and to tell the government that their kids need equality and protections. Lin Xianzhi is the father of gay son, Lin Xiaotao, and he’s trying to do just that.
In 2007, Lin Xiaotao came out to his best friend, a woman. She offered to marry him so his parents wouldn’t find out about his sexuality. This is known as “sham marriages,” and they are quite common in China. However, Lin Xiaotao didn’t agree to the marriage: “She said she’d help hide my sexuality and keep my mum from being heartbroken. But after thinking about it for a few months, I decided this wasn’t the way to go.”
Three years later, Lin Xiaotao decided to tell his parents. “I had a feeling [my mum] would accept it, but I had no real clue as to the specifics of how my parents would react. When I told them, they didn’t go into denial. They just sort of … acknowledged it.”
However, Lin Xiaotao’s father, Lin Xianzhi remembers a different reaction to his son coming out: “I felt terrible. I thought my kid had suffered from bad influences or was trying to catch up with some new trend. In the past I’d told him to stay away from homosexual-related things, and that one has to get married.”
Fortunately, Lin Xianzhi’s perception of his son’s sexuality changed and now he is fighting for his son’s rights. Lin Xiaotao explained how his dad came to terms with his sexuality: “Most misunderstandings come from ignorance, and my father is a scholarly guy. After I came out, I’d do things like send him articles about gays doing great things.”
His father explained, “Eventually I decided that he is, after all, my son. So I just accepted the reality.”
But Lin Xianzhi did more than that. After six months of speaking with legal experts, he wrote a proposal in the form of a seven-page letter for the legalization of gay marriage in China. In February he sent copies of the seven-page letter to 1,000 legislators and political advisers asking for the discussion of marriage equality. “They are no different than straight couples, and it is unfair for them not to be able to get married,” Lin told the Global Times.
The letter also calls for equal rights in the areas of health care, inheritance, and property purchases.
“The most practical one is, if one of the couple gets sick, the other can’t even sign the medical form as a family member. It’s all practical stuff, it’s not romance. It’s the same with marriage between men and women too, when they decide to be together. It’s all about rights and responsibilities,” said Lin Xianzhi.
Lin Xianzhi’s letter received a positive response from the public and on social media. Of the 1,000 legislators, only one responded: Ran Ran, a National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy from Chongqing Municipality. Ran presented her own gay rights proposal, educating the population about homosexuality in positive and scientific ways, at the Congress session, however, she did reach out to the Guangzhou-based PFLAAG after receiving Xianzhi’s letter.
Some think China still has 30 or so years before they see the legalization of gay marriage, but Lin Xiatao’s father is much more optimistic. He predicts it will take 10. Lin Xianzhi stated: “Legalizing gay marriage is just a matter of time. Food security, the environment, and so on seem to be the more pressing issues, so it’s not on top of the list yet.”
Lin Xiatao has a boyfriend, and according to the Global Times News, they were one of the Chinese couples chosen to come to West Hollywood to be married last month in June.
When talking about his son and his relationship, father, Lin Xianzhi said: “They live together right now and our families socialize like in-laws,” Lin said. “Even though our country doesn’t have this law, they are still spending their time together and would like to be together for a long time.”
And his father seems to be very happy for his son: “As parents, my son’s marriage to his boyfriend will be a dream come true for my wife and I.
However, as a father he wants the best for his son and the best is equal rights in his own country of China: “Even if gay marriage is legalized, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. We will still need to promote gay rights.”