When videos with homosexual content were banned from Chinese internet last June, one civic minded gay man from Shanghai decided to sue the censors. On Friday this week, he finally got his day in court. CINEMQ speaks to Fan Chunlin about what his case means for the queer community.
Fan Chunlin takes a stand against Chinese state-censor SAPPRFT. Photo: LGBT Rights Advocacy China
Thirty year old Fan Chunlin leads a pretty average life. The Shanghai native works for an internet company, another white collar worker in East China's rippling metropolis. His friends know him as Xiao Wu, and since 2011 have also known he is gay. So does his family, who he came out to in 2013. After some initial struggle, they too came to accept him. He is part of the city's vibrant LGBT scene, but has never considered himself an activist.
That began to change in June last year, when new guidelines issued by China Netcasting Service Association (CNSA) branded homosexuality 'abnormal sexual behavior,' and recommended that same-sex themed video content be banned from online broadcast. Six months later, Fan joined the ranks of a small but growing list of ordinary queer citizens in China to challenge restrictions on the lives of LGBT citizens when he filed to sue CNSA at Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court. In a surprise decision, the court agreed to hear his case. Although Fan was unable to appear in person, his lawyer took to the stand earlier today.
"[The fact that the case was accepted] brings me hope. Hope that there will be a just and favorable judgement for the LGBT community."
"When the regulations were announced, I felt hopeless," he tells CINEMQ. "But through this whole process, I've seen so much inspiring positive energy through the outpouring of support I have received. I've heard that many people went to the court from around the country to support the cause, and I'm deeply touched by this."
It's not without a sense of irony that Fan observes that the new CNSA guidelines came at the same time as the same-sex marriage movement was reaching a head in Taiwan. As the island's government made its historic decision to legally recognise marriage equality, CNSA was listing same-sex relations alongside rape and incest. Someone needed to take a stand, but he saw no immediate action being taken. "So why shouldn't I be the one to do something?" he tells CINEMQ.
Activists assemble outside the court in Beijing on Friday. Photo: LGBT Rights Advocacy China
Fan learned that since CNSA is a subjugate of state censor SAPPRFT, he could put in a legal request for them to disclose more information on the reason why the new guidelines had been issued, to which they would be required to respond within 30 days. Fan asked, What legal authority does CNSA have? Who runs it? What rights and power are within its remit? He also explained his view that the regulations were ignorant and discriminatory.
"Their response was evasive at best," he says of their much delayed reply. Community leaders and friends who had followed his lead were given much the same brush off. Following procedure outlined in Chinese law, he then requested an Administrative Review of the agency, but three months later this was declined. So he decided to sue the censors, and just a few short months later has had his day in court.
Supporting Fan and his lawyer are LGBT Rights Advocacy China. Yangzi Peng, director of the organisation, told CINEMQ that they see this as a very important case for the community. "This regulation defines homosexuality as abnormal. The laws and regulations [affecting LGBT people] have been 'don't ask don't tell,' but now it's so openly discriminated. If the public cannot access information, it will lead to worse discrimination against LGBT people."
Fan was supported in today by activists and friends, with the public gallery so packed that many were forced to wait outside, according to queer web-zine Tongzhizhisheng. Many wore shirts saying, 'We want to watch same-sex movies,' whilst others posed outside for photos with rainbow flags. There message was simple, but the meaning goes deep. "We have to stand up and fight back. We have to tell the public that homosexuality is not abnormal and not a disease," says Peng.
It had been almost eight months since Fan first started on this journey, and he has no idea how much longer it will keep on going. It seems generally accepted by all involved that he cannot win, but it was important to take a stand. "I wanted to contribute to the community, no matter how small it might seem. I didn’t imagine I would come this far, but I am glad that I have."
He still doesn't consider himself an activist, but is glad his actions have inspired others. "I know that if we work together hand in hand, we will create a diverse and non-discriminatory environment for LGBT people."
The court's decision is expected in a few weeks time.
Photo: LGBT Rights Advocacy China
Words: Matthew Baren
Translation: Annabel Lee
Article originally written in English, interviews conducted in Chinese. Images are from LGBT Rights Advocacy China.
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