Gay college course start of nation's lesson
The popularity of a course on homosexuality study at Shanghai-based Fudan University is a positive sign that Chinese society is becoming more tolerant.
The class, which started in 2003 as a graduate programme, will be offered to undergraduates for the first time next term. Curious students have already signed up to fill the 100 seats on the course, leaving many late comers disappointed.
"From your class, I have learned tolerance, forgiveness and how to face up to life," one student wrote to Professor Gao Yanning, who masterminded the programme at Fudan. Past classes have drawn a total of 1,745 students, including some gay and lesbian people from outside campus.
There is a lack of tolerance in China regarding the homosexual community. Due to serious social discrimination, the large group of gay and lesbian citizens of China still live largely underground, not daring to reveal their true sexual orientation.
Many Chinese still consider homosexuals as equivalent to HIV/AIDS patients, although this is clearly an illogical position. Homosexuals are often looked down on at home, in their work units and in society as a whole as being immoral or even disgusting.
But China's Criminal Law revised in 1997 decriminalized sodomy. In 2001 homosexuality was also struck off China's long list of mental disorders.
In the past few years, the gay and lesbian community has launched a range of websites, creating their own land of freedom in cyberspace. Gay and lesbian bars have also popped up in big cities.
Beijing and Shanghai have set up hotlines to provide education and counselling. Several books published on the topic of homosexuality in China have called on the general public to show more tolerance and understanding.
Despite some progress, homo-sexuality is still widely discriminated against in employment, family and social life. Most gays and lesbians in China still live in fear, often in denial, waiting for wider social acceptance.
A survey of young and well-educated homosexuals shows 30-35 per cent have considered suicide, and 9-13 per cent have attempted to kill themselves.
Sixty-seven per cent felt very lonely while 63 per cent were deeply depressed. More than half of them said they lived in great pain due to a lack of understanding in society.
For gay people living in the poor, conservative countryside, where there is not even Internet access, life is even more desperate.
According to sociologists, heavy social pressure has forced about 80-90 per cent of the estimated 40 million homosexual Chinese into marriage, causing great personal suffering as well as ruining the lives of their spouses.
Li Yinhe, a sexologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is a leading advocate of legalizing same sex marriages in China. These unions are legal in some countries and a few states in America.
China has undergone a great social and economic transformation over the past two decades, but much more needs to be done so that gays and lesbians can lead normal lives to be accepted as family members, friends and colleagues.
The government and legislature should provide more legal protection so that homosexuals are not discriminated against in the workplace or other social settings. The media and schools should be more open and active in educating the general public about understanding the gay community.
The class at Fudan University should be just the beginning of a much larger public discussion and educational campaign.
Our society needs to be taught to respect the diversity of the modern world. In the 21st century the Chinese mentality should include tolerance and acceptance.
Opinion piece in China Daily - Communist China is more progressive than Singapore: