This week, China was visited by the prime minister of Iceland—and her wife, giving LGBT Chinese citizens hope that the news coverage could lead to more openness about the issue in the East Asian economic giant.
There are no laws against homosexuality in China, but it is still “the love that dare not speak its name”, in spite of many Chinese literary classics with LGBT themes, due to the lingering influence of Communism.
LGBT activists are welcoming the visit from Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and her wife Jónína Leósdóttir as an opportunity for public discourse, as the media covers the visit of the world’s first openly lesbian head of government and her first lady.
State broadcaster Chinese Central Television aired footage of Sigurðardóttir thanking China’s Premier of State Council Li Keqiang for their kind treatment of her wife, and pictures of the couple together are unlike anything shown before in Chinese news.
Gay scenes are flourishing in China’s larger cities, but few LGBT people are able to live openly and police harassment is an occasional issue. Due to social pressure, many gay people reportedly enter into heterosexual marriages.
“It actually happens quite often that male gay people enter into a marriage with lesbians,” a correspondent for the Chinese website Queer Comrades, Stijn Deklerck, told 429Magazine. “There are even agencies in China who specifically help people with the setting up of such a marriage.”
On Chinese LGBT online communities and message boards, people expressed astonishment and delight at the media’s portrayal of the visit, with state-run media portraying Sigurðardóttir positively; the footage of her thanking Li for how well her wife was treated was seen as especially promising, as CCTV is commonly seen as leading the way in what China considers acceptable.
LGBT activists theorized that widespread talk of the visit on the popular mini-blogging site Sina Weibo, something of a combination between Twitter and Facebook may have forced the government to allow media to cover the story.
In 2010, Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visited with his registered partner Michael Mronz, and state-run media all but ignored it.
The current Chinese government has generally not acknowledged LGBT people or issues, and some sociologists say that contributes to lack of reception among the general populace. The acknowledgement of a visiting same-sex couple is a potential catalyst for change—something to inspire local LGBT people to stand up, and to make the government realize that to keep up in a changing world, some things in China need to change, as well.