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China is known for many things: its explosive growth over recent decades, its status as “the world’s factory,” its massive population, its food, and more. Unfortunately, LGBT rights are not on this list. For most of the 21st century, homosexual sex was banned in the People’s Republic of China and it wasn’t legalized until 1997. Homosexuality was also on China’s official list of mental illnesses until 2001. And, according to the law, marriage in the PRC is defined as being between a man and a woman.
It’s not surprising then that few Chinese feel comfortable coming out. The Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE), which was conducted on behalf of the UN Development Program, polled over 30,000 respondents in China and found that only 15% of Chinese LGBT people have come out to family and friends, with only 5% coming out in public.
However, the situation is improving. The study revealed that the younger the respondent, the less likely they were to view homosexuality as a pathology, have stereotype-based prejudices, gender binary ideas, or HIV-related stigma.
The legal situation for the Chinese LGBT community is also getting better. Beijing now provides dependent residency status to same-sex partners of legal residents (like expats). And in 2009, Hong Kong’s government gave limited recognition and protection to cohabitating same-sex couples in its Domestic Violence Ordinance.