Sporting chance for gays to find acceptance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 July, 2009, 12:00am

Li Sang, 44, is the founder of Shanghai's Rainbow League, a gay community specialising in sports and cultural activities that has more than 2,000 registered members. Mr Li talks about the challenges facing the mainland's homosexuals.

Have you told your parents you are homosexual?

No. There is no concept of 'coming out of the closet'. Homosexuals just keep their sexual orientation secret and, because most of them are very respectful of their parents, they would rather follow their parents' wishes and get married.

So were you under pressure to get married?

Yes. I was working in Japan and could have stayed longer but, since my parents were very concerned about me getting married, I had to return to China. As soon as I returned, my parents arranged blind dates for me even though I was really reluctant to go on them. Sometimes I felt pressure from my colleagues because most of them were already married.

Finally I met a 27-year-old nurse. She was quiet and uncommunicative, which was contrary to my personality. I proposed to her after six months and she agreed. But actually I didn't feel happy in the marriage because she was so passive. She didn't talk much and was reluctant to have a sex life. And when we had disagreements, she didn't want to negotiate with me. Gradually I found that this was not the life I wanted, so I decided to divorce her.

This was the most depressing period in my life. I had intended to live a normal life for the sake for my parents and other people around me. But now my dream was shattered and I had to face the truth. Later my parents still wanted to introduce girls to me, but I refused. I told them that I was always optimistic about life and, since I was busy with work and social activities, it would be OK if I lived alone. Today my father is 74 and mother 68, so I think they are too old to push me to get married.

Are you in a relationship now?

Yes, I have a boyfriend, and we've been together for eight years. He is about seven or eight years younger than me and not married. His family knows that he's gay, so he doesn't have marriage pressure. We don't live in the same house, but we often spend weekends together. Sometimes we take a trip outside and take part in sports. Our relationship is very stable.

How did you come up with the idea of establishing a gay community in Shanghai?

I like sports very much and I often go swimming in my spare time. I met another gay man at a swimming pool and we began to swim together. Then I was told that there was a Beijing group that organised sports for homosexuals, so we decided to organise a similar one in Shanghai. Five years ago, we established two swimming groups at first, and now this has expanded to about 20 groups, involving a variety of sports and arts. A year ago we established a website, and more than 2,000 people have registered, but I think it's only a small part of the city's gay community.

Why did you do it?

Life for homosexuals in our society is not easy. They need these communities to be united and find themselves again. When I was young I was fortunate to have met many nice and friendly gay people, so now I would like to do something in return. I want to make a contribution to the gay community and help younger homosexuals. Thanks to a stable job, I spend most of my time on management work for our community.

What do you think are the biggest difficulties facing homosexuals today?

The biggest problem is marriage. In the past, homosexuals had to get married because marriage, as a tradition, was the only choice. Today, many of us understand that we should not marry a woman, as it would hurt them. Few people can 'come out of the closet' because they face pressure from their parents. It is a big dilemma. They also face misunderstanding and discrimination.

Li Sang spoke to V