These two events came in the lead-up to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on May 17.
For China’s LGBTQ+ community, the confluence underscored just how difficult it has become to secure recognition and rights for sexual minorities, even as Taiwan, the self-governed island democracy that Beijing claims as its own, has made strides toward equal rights for couples of various sexual orientations.
“History won’t regret your efforts,” the Beijing LGBT Center said on Monday in a message to its followers on WeChat, the social media app. “We hope that one day we can again lead each other to be proud.”
The closure is “another gut punch for China’s beleaguered LGBTQ movement,” said Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at the Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center who has written multiple related reports. “While not officially closed, many orgs are inactive or struggling to survive,” he wrote on Twitter.
Over 15 years, the center quietly but consistently created a space for the LGBTQ+ community, making it a home for many isolated by the Chinese Communist Party’s promotion of traditional gender roles and restrictions on same-sex relationships being portrayed in the public sphere, including on television.
It organized fun runs and other social gatherings, conducted surveys with top universities and connected people within the community to trusted counselors, doctors and business professionals.
The group also campaigned against the persistent, albeit illegal, use of conversion therapy as well as lingering narratives about homosexuality being a mental illness. (China only stopped classifying being gay as a disorder in 2001.)
“The Beijing LGBT Center has never had much money and only a few staff members,” Xin Ying, the group’s director, wrote in an article published last week to celebrate the group’s 15-year anniversary.
But the work, she continued, “was not just a job, but rather something we put body and soul into until it became an important part of our lives.”
The announcement of the closure was shared widely on WeChat and quickly passed 100,000 views, the maximum number logged by the app. “At least it’s a lavish funeral,” one user commented on microblog Weibo.
Conservative voices celebrated the move, however, criticizing the group for spreading “Western” ideas that could undermine the Communist Party’s control.
That debate intensified on Tuesday, when Taiwan’s legislature changed adoption laws to allow same-sex couples to adopt children unrelated to them, an important focus of local advocates since same-sex marriage was legalized in 2019.
In recent years, inclusiveness for previously marginalized sexual minorities and gender identities has become entwined with Taiwan’s human rights and democracy movements, highlighting the growing divergence between Taiwanese and Chinese society.
That stark contrast was not lost on Chinese commentators on Weibo. “Now we can only wish Taiwan will be free forever,” one user wrote.
Others pointed out the politicized and restrictive environment civil rights organizations face in China today, where advocacy of all stripes increasingly risks being deemed too political by authorities.
But commentators pointed out that there is no way to fight for equal rights without being political. “The rights for transgender people to access drugs; the right for various sexual orientations to be seen; our rights to just be treated as human beings — all of these are political,” one user wrote.