Shanghai Pride week champions gay culture on the mainland

LGBT celebration held without interference from 'more open' government

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 11:35am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 12:31pm

The rainbow flag flies high over Gay Pride events around the world, most notably in major cities such as New York, London and Sydney, known for their roaring street parties and glittering parades.

The seventh Shanghai Pride week, which has just ended, made significant inroads in championing and celebrating LGBT culture on the mainland.

Raymond Phang, an organiser of Shanghai Pride for the last six years, says the latest  week-long event was a lot of fun.

Pride in the city is run like a grass-roots organisation, with about six core organisers dealing at the corporate level with media, marketing and events planning.

“We do not have an LGBT centre or full-time employees,” Phang explains. “Shanghai Pride is not registered, according to Chinese law or the NGO law in China. There is no LGBT group ... there are no official laws legalising or discriminating against LGBTs here. We’re kind of in a grey zone.”

Phang says for the pride event to be officially recognised, it would have to be registered as an events company or an organisation relating to HIV and sexual health.

“Neither is our intention, because we are non-profit, and about more than health issues.”

After being banned on the mainland for decades, homosexual sex was legalised in 1997. In 2001, homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental illnesses in China. However, there is no legislation to protect citizens from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

So Pride here is kind of unique in that we have no parade ... the Pride Run is the closest thing we get
Raymond Phang, event co-organiser

Nevertheless, Phang has observed from organising Pride over the years that there is plenty to be hopeful about, “at least from dealing with the Shanghai government, it’s getting more and more open”.

This year they had no interference, disturbance or changes from the authorities, but Phang acknowledges that the city government “would be worried or concerned in general about mass gatherings”, especially after the New Year’s Eve crush on the Bund that killed 36 people.

“So Pride here is kind of unique,” Phang says, laughing, “in that we have no parade ...  the Pride Run is the closest thing we get”.

The annual event has grown to about 30 organisers and 100 volunteers this year. Events range from the Pride Run and Pink BBQ, to performances, plays, open mic nights, Zumba parties, talent shows, trivia quizzes and a version of The Vagina Monologues.  

A popular brand is the Pride Film Festival, which this year involved 10 days of screenings in front of audiences of 80 to 100 people.

“We collaborate with consulates to get great award-winning foreign films with significant themes and messages, and mix them with Chinese LGBT films,” says Phang. “It’s a lot of fun.”

From the party pictures, looks like fun and games in a Chinese city that is relatively progressive, but the website reminds us that China is still a country “where only a tiny slice of the estimated 50 million LGBT people are out to themselves and others”. So the celebration is also a reminder of the progress that still has to be made.