An LGBT conference in central China has been cancelled after authorities told organisers that LGBT events were not welcome in the city, according to the organisers of Speak Out 2017.

Xi’an Police detained the team behind the Speak Out 2017 Xi’an conference for eight hours on Sunday, organisers said on their official Weibo microblogging account.

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Promotional materials for Speak Out 2017.

Originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, the conference aims to amplify LGBT voices by inviting up to nine speakers to speak for 18 minutes on an LGBT-related topic decided upon by organisers. 400 people were expected to attend. Speakers included Li Tingting, one of the five feminists detained in 2015, whose case sparked an international outcry.

“In those eight hours, we were completely cut off from the world – we were clearly told, ‘LGBT events can never be held in Xi’an,’ ‘Xi’an does not welcome LGBT events,’ and other such warnings,” the 2017 Xi’an conference’s curator wrote.

The organising team was forced to turn over their mobile phones, administrator access to their systems, their passwords, and a list of speakers to authorities, according to the curator’s statement. They were not permitted to contact anyone.

At 3am on Sunday, organisers announced that the event was postponed after they ran into problems with venues. Even though they tried up until Saturday to find a location, they were forced to switch venues four times. Venues cited reasons ranging from fire safety concerns to important departments holding meetings for cancelling the booking. The last venue cancelled their booking on Saturday night.

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A group photo taken at the Speak Out conference in 2016. Photo: Weibo.

Despite the setback, the organisers had hoped to communicate with the relevant departments and find a suitable venue to host the event in coming months, but ultimately decided to cancel after authorities made their position clear while they were detained.

The curator wrote: “If you ask me what kind of power can represent Xi’an to say that it ‘does not welcome LGBT’ activities, and what kind of people are ‘obstructing’ the event, I can only shrug my shoulders – I don’t know either, because no one told me. What is the reason for it ‘being cancelled’? It’s ‘no reason.’”

“This is in China.”

The organisers pledged to refund all ticket sales by June 10 and to bear all transaction costs.

The conference was previously held successfully in Xi’an, Chongqing and Chengdu. It is run by the organising team with the help of volunteers and is not affiliated with any international organisations. Previous sponsors included the Dutch embassy and the French embassy, as well as LGBT networking app Blued.

HKFP has reached out to the Xi’an Public Security Bureau for comment.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.