A kindergarten teacher from Shandong Province was fired in August, when his employers told him point blank that they had learned he was gay, and were therefore terminating his contract.
The incident occurred after the teacher, identified by the pseudonym Ming Jue, posted an article about an LGBT event to his WeChat Moments, where it was seen by an ex-student’s parent. Now, in a rare occurrence in China’s legal system, the teacher is suing the school for unfair dismissal.
“The kindergarten’s owner said I had publicly announced that I was gay, which went against the kindergarten’s philosophy,” Ming said in an interview. “I told him that was illegal and I would sue.”
Ming also said that he hopes that taking a stand will teach his students about being brave. In a widely-shared photo, Ming hides his face behind a handwritten paper sign, which reads “I teach my children to be honest, so I can’t lie. I am gay!”
LGBT discrimination is still common in China, especially in smaller, second and third-tier cities. But the pursuit of legal action is rare, since there are no existing laws which explicitly address and protect LGBT rights. Same-gender sexual relationships were against the law until 1997, and homosexuality was only removed from the official list of mental illnesses in 2001.
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Still, there are precedents for the case. The first lawsuit against an employer for unfair dismissal on the grounds of sexuality was filed in 2014, when a man was accused on video of organizing an exchange of sex for money with another man, before changing his mind. His employers saw the video and fired him, and he did not win the lawsuit that followed. In 2016, a trans man called “Mr. C” was fired, with his employers citing the reason as “dressing like a man and presenting a different image from the company’s requirements.” Mr. C won the case.
China’s LGBT community has weathered a harsh storm recently, after media censors apparently banned the portrayal of LGBT imagery online this year as part of a sweeping action against “vulgar” content. The news was met with huge outrage from China’s LGBT community and its allies, who took up the hashtag of “I am gay” as a rallying cry (the same phrase used on Ming Jue’s poster). While China’s LGBT citizens have certainly endured difficulty and suppression after the announcement, micro-blogging platform Weibo later back-pedaled on the crackdown, and LGBT imagery remains visible and present online in spite of the so-called ban (remember the hip hop ban, anyone? The one right before China’s hit hip hop reality show Rap of China rolled out its second season?).
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The news has blown up online, and somewhat surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of internet users seem to stand staunchly in the camp of the teacher.
“I think that a person’s sexual orientation should not be a reason to dismiss him,” reads one top-voted comment on Sina Weibo.
“Is his personal sexual orientation related to his teaching skill?” asks another.
“This is a gay man, not a pedophile. Why can’t he be a teacher?” reads a third comment. “Some people are too sensitive. Gay people should be treated like everyone else.”
Still, some users weren’t so accepting: “To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to accept it either if my child’s teacher was gay,” wrote one.
Ming said that he had no choice but to take the case to court, if he wanted to be true to his own values.
“When the children speak of me some day, I don’t want them to remember me as the teacher who encouraged them to be brave but then ran and hid when he met discrimination,” he was reported as saying.
Ming’s case was accepted by the arbitration committee of Qingdao on Thursday, and awaits further developments.
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