Iceland gives hope to gay Chinese

Iceland gives hope to gay Chinese

BEIJING - Reuters
Iceland gives hope to gay Chinese

Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir (L) talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. AP photos

This week’s visit to China by Iceland’s prime minister and her same-sex spouse has given rise to tentative hopes among gay Chinese that widespread news coverage could be a first step towards more openness about homosexuality at home.

Gay activists are hailing the visit by Iceland’s Premier Johanna Sigurdardottir and her wife Jonina Leosdottir as a rare chance to bring the issue into ordinary living rooms by means of television and state media. Scenes of Sigurdardottir thanking Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang for the “friendly reception” her wife received on national broadcaster CCTV’s notoriously stodgy evening news, and pictures with Sigurdardottir side-by-side with her playwright spouse Leosdottir, have virtually no precedent.

“This visit creates a quandary for China,” said Ah Qiang, a gay rights advocate in the southern city of Guangzhou. “Everyone is looking to see how the official media will cover it. They have to at least admit that this is happening.”

It is not illegal to be gay in China. But it remains a largely taboo subject that baffles many in the world’s most populous nation thanks to decades of prudish Communist rule, despite numerous homosexual references in classical Chinese literature.

German FM’s visit ignored

While large cities have thriving gay scenes, there are few people willing to be openly gay and police do occasionally harass gay venues and activists. Social pressure is such that many gay men and women either marry people who know nothing of their partner’s true sexuality, or have fake marriages to each other.

But many gay netizens said they were surprised by the reporting on the five-day visit to sign a free trade pact, including positive profiles of Sigurdardottir in state news sites, such as the People’s Daily. When German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visited China with his same-sex partner in 2010, state media largely ignored it.