Shanghai Pride, one of China's oldest gay pride groups, said that it is cancelling all its activities and events including the annual Shanghai Pride week and is effectively shutting down citing the need to "protect the safety" of its people. Social media has been abuzz with thousands of gay rights activists regretting the decision.
Although the group has not cited any particular reason behind its decision to shut down, the move is the latest sign of the authorities' increasing clampdown on civil society and LGBTQ rights in the country. Shanghai Pride week is modeled on Pride events that have long been a part of the social calendar in the United States and several other countries in Europe.
An Abrupt Closure
In an open letter posted on its official WeChat account, titled The End of the Rainbow, the group said it was "canceling all upcoming activities and taking a break from scheduling any future events". However, Shanghai Pride did not provide a reason for the decision. Although many believe that the decision was a move to ensure the safety of the members as the group intends to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines and social distancing measures, there might be a more serious reason behind it.
According to a CNN report, a person with the knowledge of the situation said that the all-volunteer team of Shanghai Pride had been reeling under pressure from local authorities, to such a point that it was disrupting their normal lives. For thousands of its supporters, it came as a rude shock and they took to social media to express their grief. Many gay rights activists said that they were quite surprised and shocked by the decision as the news came not long after this year's edition of Shanghai Pride was held successfully offline in mid-June despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
End of a Glorious Journey
Although several people have opined that LGBTQ rights advocacy groups have been facing pressure in China, not many have mustered the courage to vocalize their opinions. This once again shows the authorities' increasing clampdown on civil society and LGBTQ rights in the mainland.
Shanghai Pride came into existence in 2009 and over the past decade has staged forums, parties and events aimed at increasing public awareness about China's LGBT community. Its annual Shanghai Pride week is held in the month of June, which includes a run in which over 100 people participate.
Homosexuality is legal in China although it was considered a mental disorder till 2001. However, same-sex marriage is still not recognized and social stigma still dissuades people from opening up about it. Experts say that LGBTQ people still face persistent discrimination and prejudices from the Chinese government and the public.
Chinese censors banned portrayals of what they see as "abnormal sexual behaviors," including gay relationships, in TV and online shows in 2016. Also, most businesses in China have long stayed away from the subject to avoid trouble. Shanghai Pride may not have offered an explanation for shutting down. However, it is not difficult to guess the real reason behind it.