Chinese LGBTQ+ Center Closes Down Abruptly Amid Xi Jinping Crackdown

President Xi Jinping’s tightening control over sexual orientation-focused groups in China has led to the closure of a prominent LGBTQ+ center in Beijing after 15 years of operation. The Beijing LGBT Center announced its immediate closure on Monday, citing “force majeure.” While the center did not provide immediate comments, a former volunteer revealed to Bloomberg News that the shutdown was a result of persistent pressure from various sources, including neighboring entities.

The organization’s 2022 report highlighted the negative experiences they faced, such as forced relocation, work disruptions, and the vilification of their team and members. These incidents took a toll on their emotional well-being, making it difficult to continue their work with the same enthusiasm. The announcement of the center’s closure received substantial attention on Weibo, with over 6,083 likes and 3,200 reposts. Many comments expressed sorrow over the loss of the group and the diminishing presence of LGBTQ+ culture in Chinese society.

President Xi’s promotion of conservative and conformist ideals regarding gender and sexual identity has resulted in increased government scrutiny of China’s LGBTQ+ minority. In 2020, Shanghai Pride organizers abruptly suspended all activities without providing an explanation. Furthermore, dozens of LGBTQ+ organizations’ WeChat accounts in major colleges were restricted and subsequently removed in 2021, causing controversy among the affected individuals who had amassed significant followings.

The intolerance for sexual diversity in China has been exemplified by incidents like the warning issued to two students at a prestigious institution for distributing LGBTQ+ rainbow flags. The country’s state media has also been critical of gender nonconforming men in recent years. Darius Longarino, a senior scholar at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center specializing in LGBTQ+ issues, emphasized the significant loss with the closure of the Beijing LGBT Center. The center played a crucial role in building a community, both physically and online, while raising visibility and awareness throughout society.

Longarino noted that although it remains unclear which specific incident triggered the closure, authorities have been increasingly hostile towards civil society organizations, actively impeding their growth and subjecting them to harassment. He further suggested that authorities view the LGBTQ+ movement as a foreign influence that “misleads” the youth, adding to their opposition.

The Beijing LGBT Center offered a wide range of services, including mental health counseling, advocacy, nationwide surveys on LGBTQ+ issues, and protection of legal rights. It played a pivotal role in challenging an electroshock conversion therapy practitioner through legal action. The former volunteer expressed deep regret and described the center as a “lighthouse” for LGBTQ+ individuals in China, particularly in Beijing. With its closure, community members are left uncertain and disoriented, lacking a support system they once relied upon. They have lost a place they considered home.

Jinghua Qian, a Shanghai-born writer based in Australia, who frequently writes on LGBTQ+ topics, acknowledged the resilience and resourcefulness of the Chinese LGBTQ+ community. However, she stressed that sometimes their subtle strategies cannot replace the significance of an established institution like the Beijing LGBT Center. A secret handshake cannot substitute for the guidance and support offered by a prominent organization.

The closure of the Beijing LGBT Center underscores the shrinking space for LGBTQ+ civil society organizations in China. The loss of this vital institution leaves a void in the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals seeking support, advocacy, and a sense of community. The impact reaches beyond the immediate closure, as it signifies a broader trend of increased suppression and limited opportunities for LGBTQ+ groups to thrive and make progress in Chinese society.