From the Beigjinger: We moved to the music and sipped woozy mimosas, but it wasn't all fun and games by any means. Indeed, Beijing’s first Drag Brunch blasted off successfully on Sep 16, serving not only as a chance for us to finally dust off our dancing shoes, but also standing as a testament to how united our community has become, and how fortunate we are as a result. Proceeds for the event went to the Beijing LGBT Center, a non-profit organized ation that has been working with the LGBT community in the capital since 2010. Here we catch up with two of the center’s staff, Echo and Sachi, to find out what's been going on behind the scenes.
Echo is the frontrunner of the development squad. She manages a team of volunteers at the center who dream up and execute fundraising ideas. Aside from last weekend's inaugural Drag Brunch, the team also recently worked on 9/9, the Sep 9 fundraising campaign, which Echo says is special in part because it is run by crowdfunding platform Tencent Charity Foundation (腾讯公益). “Last year was the first time for us, and we fundraised for three different project areas: LGBTQ+ social work, mental health, and transgender programs. Right now we have achieved the goals for the first two pledges, and the third program is still ongoing,” Echo explains.
For this year's campaign, Echo says they aim to fundraise close to RMB 300,000, saying, “This program uses professional psychological and social work practices to provide services to gender and sexual minorities. We plan to continue expanding services such as mental health education, counseling, small group discussions, and mentorship programs in order to improve participants' mental health and help them establish a healthy social support network.”
Sachi is one of the program managers working on transgender initiatives at the center. She is also the host of a LGBT-related podcast called “不直 bù zhí”(Bent). “Regarding the trans situation in China, there has been a very quick development,” she says. “There are lots of young trans activists coming out and wanting to do a lot. Of the trans hotline that was started in 2015, we can now really say it is ‘countrywide,’ as since July/August we are now collaborating with four organizations in other cities to reach more people.” Sachi also states that the hotline is now open seven days a week and emergency cases can be referred across cities, ensuring people get the help that they need. The hotline has processed more than 1,000 calls since its summer inception.
I asked them both about what they thought were the center's biggest achievements over the past year. Echo is particularly excited about the counseling department in part because it now has the technology needed to offer online counseling, reaching more people no matter where they were in China. Sachi, meanwhile, is proud of the center's capacity-building opportunities for China's growing pool of young local trans activists, who she describes as being highly passionate but in need of tools. Such tools include practical leadership training in management and other skills as well as specialized meetings. One such event included a recent medical health conference that brought together isolated surgeons performing gender reassignment surgeries from all around the country to discuss gender diversity.
The duo doesn't shy away from the challenges involved in such work. “The pressure is much bigger now,” says Echo, adding, “Support from overseas is harder to get and because the LGBTQ+ community is not listed as one of the designated charitable areas, it also means that it is hard to get support inside the country.”
That is specifically in reference to the NGO law that came into effect last year that prohibits local NGOs from receiving money from organizations outside of China. They must also avoid "difficult dates" such as diplomatic summits when planning an event because police and other authorities are more likely to disrupt large gatherings during such occasions.
Echo laments the ambiguity of what is allowed and what is not, and the instability that such vague rules create. Because of this nebulous state of affairs, she and her LGBT Center cohorts have to be extremely careful, for fear of their social media posts being removed, or worse still, an event being canceled at the last minute. This can bring not only frustration but also impede event publicity, attendance, and therefore, awareness.
Sachi agrees that such hurdles also affect her work, before highlighting an equally troubling issue: discrimination from within and outside the LGBTQ+ community: “There is a lot of stigma too, with people only recognizing trans-men and trans-women, but not the whole spectrum of gender diversity." I ask, has the popularity of drag helped bolster the public's understanding of gender diversity? In Sachi’s eyes, it has, as it encouraged more people to challenge gender norms and experiment in a safe space, something that can only lead to greater understanding.
And what of the future? “The media can be more open,” Echo says, before expressing her hopes about freer expression and depictions of gender diversity, because, "that way, more people can understand more about it.”
Sachi is hoping for more groups to emerge. She describes China’s trans community as small and short on resources but is also therefore tight-knit and highly supportive. She hopes more activists will join the community and allow it to grow. Sachi also dreams of holding more diversity training sessions for important stakeholders such as doctors, lawyers, and government officials. She says this would have a considerable ripple effect on other parts of society.
So what can we do to show our support? Coming to the affiliated events, not to mention paying a visit to the Beijing LGBT Center in Liufang, all, of course, makes a difference. More importantly, though, we should make sure to spread the word about the center's work, events, and campaigns, so that more people have the opportunity to hear about and support them.
One such opportunity will take place this coming Monday, Sep 24 at a Beijing LGBT Center event (click here for full details). This Mid-Autumn Festival outdoor picnic in Dongfeng International Sports Park is perfect for children, pets, and a great place to make friends in the community. Among the fun happenings will be six different competitions (think tug of war), along with chances to win prizes like vouchers to popular local pro-LGBT restaurants like Tube Station, The Local, Ganges Indian Restaurant, and Q Mex Taqueria. Bring your own snacks or drinks, or alternatively, buy drinks and food at the barbecue. Arrive at 2pm, and try not to dally because the games begin at 2.30pm, and you don’t want to miss the chance to win some of these prizes!
Photos courtesy of the Beijing LGBT Center, Uni You