LGBT conference in China's 'gay capital' scuppered

BEIJING (Reuters) - Organizers of an LGBT conference in China’s “gay capital” had to scrap the event this week, the second time in as many months a public seminar aimed at expanding awareness of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues has run into snags.

The Chinese group Speak Out was due to hold a conference in the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan province, on July 23. But the venue canceled the booking, citing conflicting events, the group said.

It is not illegal to be gay in China but LGBT activists say deeply conservative attitudes toward homosexuality in some sections of society have led to occasional government clamp-downs.

In May, the lesbian dating app Rela was shut down, though it was not yet clear why.

Many people were surprised by the cancellation. Many young Chinese people regard Chengdu as “gaydu”, or “the city of the gays”, due to its liberal LGBT views.

“The conference venue Jinsha theater told us that a government official activity was scheduled to be held on the same day, which left us with no choice but to cancel,” the founder of Speak Out, who gave his name only as Matthew, told Reuters.

An office administrator at the theater told Reuters she was not aware of the situation.

Speak Out ran into similar problems when it tried to organize a gay rights conference in the city of Xian in late May.

“The local state security bureau in Chengdu has also been in touch with us by phone in recent days, asking questions such as what is our next move on the arrangement for any event and what we are going to talk about at the event,” Matthew said.

The Chengdu government information office could not be reached by telephone for comment.

The cancellation prompted hundreds of postings on the Weibo social media platform, with many people expressing sympathy.

“Cheer up, the dawn comes after hard struggles in the dark. We shall see each other someday,” wrote one Weibo user.

Peng Yanhui, a prominent LGBT activist, was scheduled to call for an end to “gay therapy” at the conference.

Some gay people are forced by their parents or wives to be treated in hospitals where they are diagnosed as having “sexual preference disorder”. Many are forced to take drugs or even undergo electro-shock treatments.

In 2014, Peng sued a conversion therapy clinic over the suffering he went through and won. Authorities made the clinic remove advertisements for its service from the internet.

“I felt very sorry for the cancellation,” Peng told Reuters.

Until 2001, China had regarded homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang and Stella Qiu; Editing by Robert Birsel