It’s not easy being gay in China. China’s first gay pride week was not held until 2009 in Shanghai, and even then the Christian Science Monitor reported that police discouraged venues from hosting it. A Qingdao University survey of gay men from 2010 found 62% hid their homosexuality. In 2011, LGBT groups boycotted the social-networking site Douban.com after discovering many of their tweets announcing LBGT events were being deleted.
But if recent netizen sentiment is any indication, things have the potential to get better. Anthony Wong (@黃耀明AnthonyWong), a 49 year-old Hong Kong singer, announced before thousands of fans at an April 23 concert that he is gay. This followed the release of photos in advance of his concert depicting him posing and locking lips with another man, which required Wong to spend the better part of the next three days dodging media questions about his sexuality. After his concert, Wong posted on Weibo that he was ruining the media’s “twenty-year-plus guessing game; as soon as I clear it up, you won’t have any more fun.”
The news quickly caught fire on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, at one point becoming the number one trending topic on the platform. Commenting on the hashtag “Anthony Wong announces he’s coming out of the closet” (#黄耀明宣布出柜#) and posting directly on Wong’s Weibo account, thousands of netizens expressed overwhelming support for Wong. Many simply wrote, “support” or “blessing.”
Most netizens expressed sentiment that would be considered mainstream in many parts of the West. @肖施镣 observed, “This is his own issue, he’s an adult, he’s got his freedom.” @我-活著CHUN wrote, “I admire him for having the courage to say it in a loud voice.” Others felt personally inspired, such as @莫小惦, who wrote: “There’s nothing wrong with having a sexual orientation. Being gay isn’t bad. One of these days, I’ll also come out.”
If anything, a large number of netizens were surprised that homosexuality remained a hot issue. @Benny-Guo asked, “There’s no big deal here…did Sina turn this into a trending topic?” @豬豬的誘惑V tweeted, “Regardless of whether it’s hype, even if it’s true, it’s nothing very strange.” @三六二九 wrote, “Even if he hadn’t said anything, everyone knows anyway, I think it’s nothing.” [Of course, this author must note it seems easier to declare a particular brand of discrimination "solved" when one has never been a victim of it oneself.]
Others offered support, but with a demographic twist. @LYS珊or蒙 noted pragmatically, “True love is not a crime [NB: at least not since 1997]. In fact, right now there are more young men than young women, what’s wrong with pairing up a few men?!” Conversely, @lvguang991, perhaps aware that young women in China face a dearth of what they consider marriageable men, complained, “At the beginning of this year, the men have competed with the women for the men.”
Of course, in a country where homosexuality was not decriminalized until 1997, it is not surprising that some netizens were not fully on board. Some expressed outright opposition, such as @葉輕狅, who wrote, “I’ve already lost hope in a world with homosexuals in every corner.” @Penny-hpl wrote, “Really, why do normal human beings have this tendency? I can’t take it, and it makes me sick.” Others, like @陌路殊香, offered only backhanded support: “Come out, as long as it’s not my own friends or relatives coming out, I can bless and praise it.” @满-不在乎 wrote ominously, “Anthony Wong’s coming out has a different style from the mainland, would he dare come out in the mainland?”
But many supporters were, or at least claimed to be, mainlanders. @风丫头的围脖 (from Shanghai) seemed amazed at the pace of change, writing, “I have no feeling for [Wong], but reading the news report that ‘Following the announcement, the entire stadium erupted in nonstop applause’ shows me this world really has changed. These days, coming out is mainstream, fashionable, tasteful, and worth a celebration!”
Such sentiments are clearly in the mainstream of Sina Weibo, whose millions of users tend to be young and urban. Whether these views are widely shared throughout the Chinese mainland–and perhaps of greatest practical importance, among the ranks of policy-makers–remains to be seen. But if the warm online reception to Wong’s coming out provides inspiration or a sense of safety to other Chinese in the closet, being gay in China may continue to get easier, even if it never gets easy.