March 7, 2019 / 1:29 PM / 5 months ago

China urged to take action on LGBT+ rights after backing U.N. changes

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - China’s acceptance of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s recommendations on LGBT+ rights is a “milestone”, gay rights groups said on Thursday, urging Beijing to work with activists to tackle inequality.

China this week agreed to five recommendations on LGBT+ issues made under the Council’s Universal Periodic Review, including adopting legislation banning discrimination within a year, said U.N. spokesman Rolando Gomez.

The Geneva-based Council reports on alleged human rights violations in each U.N. member state every five years and is currently reviewing China.

“This is very important for the LGBT community and could show a change in attitude toward LGBT issues from our government,” said an LGBT+ activist in China who asked to remain anonymous.

“It could be a kind of milestone. Hopefully more government departments will take action to help our LGBTIQ community.”

Same-sex relations are not illegal in China, which has a vibrant LGBT+ scene. But the government has shown no interest in legalizing same-sex marriage and launches periodic crackdowns on gay content online or elsewhere.

“It’s the first time our government has totally accepted U.N. recommendations on the LGBTIQ issue,” said the activist, adding that more needed to be done to promote diversity education in China.

“We hope this starts a trend that helps all LGBTIQ rights to become achievable in the future,” the activist added. “If more countries talk about LGBTIQ rights ... It will affect others to change their attitude and policy.”

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across most of Asia where Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei outlaw sexual relations between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people.

But changes are happening. India moved to scrap Section 377 outlawing same-sex relations last year and last month Taiwan proposed a draft law to allow same-sex marriage.

After decades of Communist Party prudery about sex of all kinds, LGBT+ Chinese have in recent years been openly tackling bureaucracy, legal uncertainty and entrenched social norms to assert their place in society.

But the country does not ban conversion therapy and homosexuality was still listed as a mental disorder until 2001.

The latest development at the U.N. had received little or no news coverage domestically, said a second LGBT+ activist in China, who asked not to be named due to safety concerns.

“Actions speak louder than words. I hope that our government will now do something - like supporting LGBT+ organizations in their work locally, and also fix LGBT+ discrimination,” the activist said.

“I hope the government will change their minds and become more open to the LGBT+ community and support LGBT+ rights. We now look forward to see what happens.”

China, which says it has accepted and already implemented the five LGBT+ rights recommendations, is due to deliver a statement to the Council on March 15, said Gomez.

However Doriane Lau, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said China had yet to implement its recommendations on LGBT+ rights.

“There is no law that prohibits discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity (or) expression, and sex characteristics,” Lau said by email.

During the last six months, two LGBT+ non-government organizations had been shut down by authorities, while a gay activist was forcibly returned to Hong Kong after being detained for violating laws on foreign NGO activities, she added.

Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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