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Activists are encouraging same-sex couples to disclose their relationships during the national census in China. Photo: AFP

LGBT couples in China campaign to be counted in national census

  • Once-in-a-decade demographic survey has no box to tick for same-sex relationships but some are disclosing them anyway
  • National Bureau of Statistics says any information beyond predefined responses will not be recorded

Same-sex couples in China are seeking recognition in the country’s once-in-a-decade census, which officially began on November 1 after weeks of preliminary surveys.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997 but activists are still fighting for the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Now, as the world’s most populous country attempts to capture its latest demographic shifts, some LGBT couples are trying to get their true relationships on record.

Shanghai resident Lauren, 26, came out to the census-taking stranger who knocked on her door just a month after she had mustered the courage to tell her mother she was a lesbian. She asked to be identified only by her first name due to the sensitive nature of LGBT issues in China.

When asked her “relationship to head of household”, Lauren told the young man – one of 7 million conducting the census – that she and her girlfriend lived together. He ticked the box on the questionnaire for “other” and wrote “couple” next to it. The interaction was affirming, Lauren said, even if the handwritten note may not be reflected in the final results.

The National Bureau of Statistics has said any additional information beyond the predefined responses for the “relationship to head of household” category would not be recorded.

Chinese activists step up gay marriage push after official rejects change

Soon after the census visit, Lauren saw on her social media feed posts urging same-sex couples to tell census takers: “They are not my roommate, they are my partner.”

Peng Yanzi, director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China, the NGO behind the campaign, said he hoped same-sex couples could gain visibility in the eyes of their neighbours and the government alike. “These census takers may have never met, or even heard of, gay people, so if we have the opportunity to talk to them, they can better understand the LGBT community,” he said. “We are a part of China’s population.”

While it remains difficult to come out in China, where many LGBT people refer to their romantic partners as roommates or friends, activists say there is a growing acceptance of gay couples. “But the system hasn’t kept up with the times,” Peng said.

Lauren, who works at a tech company, said she felt comfortable speaking honestly about her relationship, but feared it may not be as safe for LGBT couples in more conservative areas to do so.

“I still wouldn’t dare,” one user of the Twitter-like Weibo commented on a post about the campaign.