A cool wristband with a QR code so people can zap straight to RNW’s new Chinese website – RNW is strutting its stuff at Shanghai Pride this week. Thousands of the pink and white wristbands are being handed out to the festival's visitors so they can get to know our new Chinese website. There’s tailor-made content once visitors get to the site, and they can immediately see that RNW is at the forefront of fighting for equal rights.
Unlike gay pride festivals held elsewhere in the world, Shanghai Pride’s programme doesn’t include a parade. But that doesn’t change the face that the festival actively promotes LGBT rights and the visibility of gays and lesbians.
Shanghai Pride 2013 “Pride 5” kicked off last Friday. Not only parties, picnics and barbecues are on Shanghai Pride’s programme. The weeklong event also features a series of cultural events such as the screening of LGBT films, an art exhibition, theatre performances and panel discussions. As the first and most successful gay festival in mainland China, Shanghai Pride is gradually becoming a mainstay in Shanghai’s cultural scene.
Initiated by expatriate homosexual activists, Shanghai Pride has a distinctively Western tint. In its early years, the participants were mostly expats living in the Shanghai region. The Western tint is sill visible this year, as a number of foreign consulates in Shanghai are collaborating with the organizer. The festival also has an elaborate English website.
However, local LGBT communities and organisations are becoming more involved in the event. More than 50 volunteers took part in organising this year’s event, most of whom are young professionals and students. During the first few days of Pride 5, more than 60% of the participants were Chinese teenagers or young people in their early twenties.
Advocacy and health are the focus of Pride 5. The event is also aimed at bringing LGBT communities together, calling for support for gay marriage among the wider public and boosting mainstream interest in gay culture and art.
Entering the public sphere
When Shanghai Pride was staged for the first time in 2009, the organisers had to cancel some of the activities at the last minute, due to pressure from the local authorities. The events had to be moved to private venues, and some promotional materials were only available in English.
But Shanghai Pride is now gradually entering the public sphere. Although staging a gay parade in the city is still out of the question, Shanghai Pride nevertheless organised two large-scale open air events: Pink Picnic in Fuxin Park and Pride Run, a 5-kilometer running event in downtown Shanghai. Pride Run is the first sporting event organised by Shanghai Pride. By presenting a sportive and healthy image of the LGBT community, the organisers hope to change stereotypes and increase social tolerance towards homosexuals.
Despite these public events, Shanghai Pride still seemed reluctant to raise political issues directly. Cultural activities and parties, more than political parades for rights and acceptance, are the key components of Pride 5. Raymond, one of the organizers, told RNW that Pride 5 has many more cultural activities than in previous years. “There are many theatre performances, public discussions and art exhibitions, covering a range of topics facing China’s LGBT communities.”
Behind the fanfare
Slowly but steadily, Shanghai Pride is gaining recognition among more and more people in Shanghai. Yet its success is not representative of the LGBT community’s situation. It’s estimated that there are over 50 million gays and lesbians in China, yet only a very small fraction is “out of the closet”. Most homosexuals still feel that they have to hide their sexual orientation from their family and friends.
This is a fact Pride 5 wants society to be aware of. There remains a lot to do before China’s gays and lesbians can talk freely about their sexual orientation and be proud of who they are.
RNW’s Chinese section has been covering the Shanghai Pride event since its launch five years ago and is now an official partner.