A Beijing court has heard a case which could require China’s state media regulator to provide the legal basis for banning online media platforms from depicting “abnormal sexual relationships and behaviours,” including same-sex relationships.

Last June, homosexuality was listed alongside incest, sexual assault and perversion as vulgar and pornographic content to be censored in online audiovisual content in new rules issued by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT).

The case was heard by the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court on Friday. It was filed in January by Fan Chunlin, a 30-year-old who works in human resources in Shanghai, after the regulator declined to respond to his public information request about why it classified homosexuality as “abnormal.”

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Supporters outside the courthouse wearing “We want to watch same-sex movies” t-shirts. Photo: LGBT Rights Advocacy China.

Fan told HKFP that he filed the case as he wanted to increase the level of public awareness about the LGBTQ community, and challenge a rule he viewed as backwards.

“I think that it is going against the course of history – classifying homosexuality as abnormal behaviour is very misleading,” he said.

He said that Taiwan had already legalised same-sex marriage last year: “Homosexuality is only a sexual orientation towards the same sex.”

Raising concerns

Fan said he chose to speak out as he had already come out to his family and wanted to help his community.

The hearing was attended by volunteers from LGBT NGOs and other supporters, who took up all the seats in the courtroom with some forced to wait outside, according to non-profit LGBT magazine Tongzhizhisheng, also known as Voice of Chinese LGBT (VCLGBT). The court will announce its decision on a later date.

“Really whether we win the case is not important, but if we can raise concerns about the [LGBTQ] community, and create a discussion, then I would be satisfied,” Fan said. “It already far surpassed my expectations by reaching this point.”

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A rainbow banner in Hong Kong. Photo: PH Yang.

According to Global Times, the regulations were published by the China Netcasting Service Association, a SARFT-administered industry body that has more than 600 members, including the website of the official Xinhua news agency, and major online video platforms iQiyi and Youku.

The depiction of same-sex relationships is also banned in TV shows.

‘Dispel stigma’

Among those in the courtroom was Zhu Bao, the lawyer for LGBT Rights Advocacy China, an NGO that has been campaigning online on the issue. Zhu told HKFP that the case could help dispel misunderstandings towards the LGBTQ community and help the community make their voices heard by authorities.

“Through legal procedures, we can let the relevant departments understand the community’s demands, and in the future consider our community’s interests during the process of formulating internal rules and regulations, and even in formulating laws.”

“Litigation can… raise the visibility of LGBT groups [and] dispel stigma, misunderstandings, discrimination and prejudice,” he said.

China’s LGBT population is estimated to stand at 70 million. Homosexuality was only declassified as a mental disorder in 2001, and was decriminalised in 1997.

Over half of sexual and gender minority people reported having been unfairly treated or discriminated against in a survey of about 30,000 people published by the United Nations Development Programme in 2016.

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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.