In the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a mother played by Frances McDormand uses local billboards to draw attention to her daughter’s murder, calling out the police and what she considers their inaction. Now three men in China have taken the tactic to heart, launching a similar public campaign against Chinese conversion therapy and homophobia.
The campaign — which is the idea of artist Wu Qiong, a gay policeman named Lin He and an art curator named Zheng Hongbin — sees three bright red trucks travel through several major Chinese cities. On the trucks are slogans that denounce homophobia and the idea that therapy or treatment can turn a person straight.
The guys are open about the Hollywood film, which won numerous statuettes during last year’s awards season, having inspired their push back against Chinese conversion therapy.
“Homosexuality is not a disease,” says Wu, who happens to be straight.
While being gay is itself not a crime in China, the government has a long history of censorship of LGBTQ content, having effectively banned it from the internet. Only a few months ago, a Chinese author was sentenced to a decade behind bars for including gay sex in her latest novel. Most recently, it turns out a Chinese streaming service has even been blurring the ears of men who sport earrings.
Throughout the country there are reportedly many hospitals and clinics that offer conversion therapy, treatments for which can include inhumane acts like electroshock treatment and confinement.
So these red trucks fighting against Chinese conversion therapy are stopping at roughly 100 of these clinics, Wu estimates. The trek began in Shanghai and will travel nearly 2,000 miles across China, including a stop in Beijing.
One truck reads, “To cure a ‘disease’ that does not exist?”
A second says, “The diagnostic criteria for mental disorders in China still retain ‘sexual orientation disorder.’” And a third has, “It’s been 19 years, why?” referring to the 2001 change [since the Chinese Society of Psychiatry removed homosexuality from a list of mental disorders] on paper that the artists feel need to be clarified.
Public protests of any kind typically do not last long in China, and any unrest over LGBTQ issues typically are cracked down upon quickly. But as The Telegraph reports, these red trucks fighting Chinese conversion therapy have thus far “toured unopposed,” and the trucks’ social media account (claiming 9 million followers) has not been censored yet.
“We are not breaking the law. It’s just three trucks driving on the road,” Zheng tells The Telegraph. “Our approach is pretty mild.”