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“We Will Not Give Up”: China’s Biggest Pride Event Turns 10

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ShanghaiPRIDE, China’s — and one of Asia’s — biggest LGBTQ awareness event celebrates its tenth anniversary this month. The series of talks, educational seminars, film screenings, fitness events, and parties officially gets underway today, following on from last weekend’s inaugural TransPride event at a hotel near The Bund.

Reaching a decade is a major landmark for any event. But for a Pride gathering in a country that has a long way to go in the field of LGBTQ rights, the ten year marker feels particularly worthy of celebration.

“We’re going to go full blast,” says Raymond Phang, who first got involved with ShanghaiPRIDE back in 2009 after moving to the city from his native Malaysia. “We’re going to try to really get out there. You still get people who say, ‘is Pride really happening?’, people who’ve not heard of Pride. [We hope] awareness will be much higher.”

Raymond Phang (far left) at a Pride film event in 2017

A higher profile can sometimes bring complications. In the past, some address details for Pride events were held back due to fears of interruption from the authorities, who have shown up to interfere with a number of previous ShanghaiPRIDE gatherings. However Phang says that their motives likely stemmed from crowd control concerns (Shanghai police were particularly jittery about large-scale gatherings in the wake of a Kpop fan crush on the Expo site in 2010, and the New Year’s Eve stampede on The Bund in 2014), rather than overt homophobia.

This year’s Pride will see around 30 events held over ten days in venues across the city, and the event details are fully on show. “It’s kind of like, we do it or we go home,” says Phang. “Throughout the years we kind of feel that the climate is getting better even though in the past year things may have tightened up again. There’s a grey zone — we’re never quite sure.”

We are afraid too, I’m not going to deny it. We are nervous. But technically we are not doing anything against the law. We are not doing a demonstration or a parade. We think we are safe. But you never know.

After ten years of existence ShanghaiPRIDE is undoubtedly on the authorities’ radar, yet the activities seem tolerated rather than supported by the local government. By contrast, the events receive enthusiastic backing from international and internationally-minded organizations based in Shanghai, in particular from foreign consulates and multinational companies.

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But whether it’s the sponsors, the organizers, or the attendees, Pride is in no way limited to Shanghai’s foreign community — far from it. “A lot of local organisations have been established and they’re more out,” says Phang. “We get a lot of support from colleges; although on and off you’ll see that being stopped by the school, at least someone is trying. And a lot of organizations continue to create events, the voice is there. In terms of businesses, more and more corporations are trying to join.”

Even among multinational companies or seemingly “foreign” organizations, the push for involvement with and support of Pride is increasingly local, says Phang.

In the early years multinational companies’ support came from their headquarters overseas, but now their China team is trying to do something. Of course they have the advantage of global policies and assets, but the willingness of the local teams to want to do something for the community is greatly encouraging and it means that one day Chinese companies will follow, or those individuals might move on to Chinese companies and set up similar activities there. It’s part of businesses’ stand for their employees. They might not come out loud in society, but they are coming out for their employees because the younger people today want to know how open that company is.

The recent uproar over Weibo’s announcement that it was “cleaning up” homosexual content, lumping it together with violent and pornographic imagery, is perhaps another manifestation of this attitude shift among younger generations.

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Such signs are positive, but there’s still a gap between turning online support into offline activity, and no one at Pride is under any illusions over the scale of the task still in front of them when it comes to the need for LGBTQ awareness and education in China. Phang says that the organization’s ultimate aim is to become redundant — when there is no more need for ShanghaiPRIDE it will have served its purpose — but those days seem some way off, even in a relatively more liberal city such as Shanghai.

“We cannot compare the situation in China to the West, where there’s been 40 years of LGBT movements,” points out Phang. “Yes, we live in an era that is very fast growing, but for China this is still new; ShanghaiPRIDE is just 10 years now, there’s too many things to do. Many, many things. And it’s not only about what you have in Shanghai but about the other cities — the awareness needs to be there.”

To this end, a key part of ShanghaiPRIDE’s work — which is year-round, not just for a couple of weeks in June — is organizing an open day for LGBTQ groups from across China to network and offer mutual support. “We want to showcase to people that there is not just Shanghai. There are people who are making a lot of effort, in Xi’an, in Chengdu, in Anhui, all over — and they need support. If any policies are going to change for the better, it won’t only be in Shanghai, it’ll be for all of China and as a policy-maker if only one place is calling for it, it’s not a majority. If more than half of a country would like to have this, then the tendency of change is higher. It’s a human issue and you need to make sure that people are aware of it.”

Another step forward in terms of awareness will take place this weekend as ShanghaiPRIDE celebrates its tenth anniversary, with events running until June 18th. Last night, ahead of the official launch today, the organizers shared this message:

This month we are making history again! Our 10th ShanghaiPRIDE has been a long time in the making, nobody ever dared to imagine we could have made it this far. For some people, Pride is just a fun event but for others this means a lot more – acceptance, support, love, etc.

The very first year when we faced our first challenges we were completely terrified. Then every year after that we faced challenges, we always took it in and came out successful and became less terrified, because we know we must carry on and some day this will all be worth it.

These past two days have been very challenging for us. There were several last minute obstacles that we had to overcome, and the weather forecasts says it will rain on Saturday, but we will not give up. We will find a way, we always do.

For more information on ShanghaiPRIDE, please visit their websiteImages courtesy of ShanghaiPRIDE.

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Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.