From 16 to 17 June 2012, the China Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Community Leader Conference successfully took place in Beijing. In a historic first, the conference managed to gather a varied selection of Chinese LGBT movement leaders. Emphasizing the participation of communities whose voice remains largely underrepresented in China’s LGBT movement, representatives of the lesbian, gay & straight community shared the stage with (among others) leaders of organizations focusing on wives of gay men, bisexuality, transgender issues, disabled LGBT, parents of LGBT, SM, sex workers and HIV/AIDS issues. Both developed and underdeveloped regions were represented, with leaders from far-away regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang also joining in the debates. In total, more than 80 LGBT activists, representing 53 organizations and over 23 different regions in China actively participated in the conference.
Focusing on the topic “Cooperation and Development of Chinese LGBT Organizations”, the conference saw intense debates about the development of ideas, tactics and future directions for the LGBT movement in China, and about problems and difficulties LGBT Organizations are currently facing in their development and their collaboration with other organizations. The conference participants took the 2-day conference as an opportunity to map out the current position of LGBT organizations in China, to intensify communication about strengthening organizational development through cooperation, and to promote a more diversified and more invasive Chinese LGBT movement.
The 2-day conference consisted of 3 keynote speeches, 9 workshops on different themes and a plenary debate. The conference also saw the premiere of the new documentary “Mama Rainbow” by queer filmmaker Fan Popo, which features 6 mothers from all over China, who talk openly and freely about their experiences with their homosexual children. The conference was hosted by the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute. Welcoming everybody to the conference, Executive Director of the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute Xiaogang Wei said: “We’re honoured to host this conference, and we’re very glad with the diversity among the delegates. We hope that all of you will grasp this chance to talk together on how we can strengthen our LGBT movement in China.”
Ah Qiang, the Executive Director of the Guangzhou Organization PFLAG China (Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians & Gays) opened the conference with a keynote speech entitled: “The Acceleration of the Chinese LGBT movement”. In his speech, he affirmed that the LGBT community has slowly acquired a solid presence within mainstream society during the last few years. He emphasized that LGBT organizations should continue to pay attention to the needs of their communities, saying: “I’m always weary of organizational thinking which emphasizes projects instead of people. Chinese LGBT organizations need to understand that our work shouldn’t be lead by a search for funds – it should be lead by our concern for our people.” He continued by emphasizing collaboration efforts with the government and society as a whole, and by urging the LGBT movement to always use a broader human rights angle to pursue its goals – failing to do so would put the LGBT movement in a dubious light.
The second keynote speech was given by Xu Bin, the director of the Beijing LBT organization Common Language. In a talk entitled “Looking Back, Moving Forward”, she discussed the history of the Chinese LGBT movement, pointing out which communities have remained largely overlooked throughout the movement’s course, and advocating a more diversified path for the future. She said: “Some voices, like male gay voices, or voices of Beijing-based lesbian organizations, are more powerful than others. When we’re using these powerful, subjective voices of ours, are we also paying attention to more marginalized communities?”
Throughout the duration of the conference, 9 workshops were held on the topics of “HIV/AIDS and the LGBT movement”, “The development of the LGBT movement in less-developed regions”, “The development of LGBT youth organizations”, “Gender, sexual rights and the LGBT movement”, “Straight – Gay cooperation” and “Marginalized communities within the LGBT movement”. The workshops formed the main arena for delegates to express their opinions and experiences. They were especially enriched by the input of communities who have remained largely overlooked throughout the movement’s history. Tony, a transgender representative of the Jinan-based Les Working Group asserted: “Everybody here leads LGBT organizations. I hope that at the next meeting, I don’t need to inform so many people about basic knowledge surrounding transgender issues.” Leader of the Dalian Hotline for Disabled LGBT People Han Zhen expressed: “I can’t represent all disabled LGBT persons. At this conference however, I think that’s my role: I need to make people aware of the existence of the disabled LGBT community in China.” Wu Youjian, the first mother of a gay son to go public with her story, captured the thoughts of many representatives, saying: “Don’t think that this conference can solve all of our problems. Just the fact that we’re communicating is a great conference result. I personally already found lots of opportunities to cooperate. As an organization or as a person, just say what you want to say – there are more than enough people here who want to communicate with you.” Representative of the Women’s Media Monitor Network Lü Pin said: “As a person with a non-LGBT background, I just want to say that I think this meeting is wonderful. I’m learning so much and I’m getting so much inspiration, especially about how to communicate candidly and openly with each other, and how important that is.”
Sexual Orientation & Law Researcher Guo Xiaofei, one of the only academics to participate in the conference, summarized the key points of the conference in his keynote speech on the last conference day. He started by emphasizing that under the current political climate in China, the fact that the conference took place can already be considered a huge success. He went on by mentioning some issues which, in his opinion, had still received insufficient attention during the conference, including the need for cooperation and communication between the LGBT movement and other social movements in China. He remarked that: “According to me, there can’t be an LGBT movement without equal rights consciousness.”
At the plenary debate, which was held at the end of the conference, participants debated the results of a questionnaire distributed amongst the representatives of the conference. Asked about the necessity for Chinese LGBT organizations to issue a unified voice on public policy and legal issues, 57 answered positively, while 2 questionnaires mentioned a negative answer. All representatives unanimously agreed to publish a summary of the workshops and the debates (which will be available soon on the website of the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, www.bghei.org), and expressed their enthusiasm to continue the discussions and jointly prepare for the following LGBT Conference which will be organized in 2013.
The closing words were for Xiaogang Wei: “Strengthening the LGBT movement is our common responsibility. So let’s continue to work together towards a better future!”