Influential LGBT Advocacy Group Shuts Down in China Amid Crackdown on Social Activism

An advocacy group in China that has driven many legal cases for LGBT rights said that it would be halting its work "indefinitely" as China continues its crackdown on social activism, the Associated Press reported. LGBT Rights Advocacy China revealed the decision Thursday, saying that it would shut down its social media accounts and halt all activities.

"We are deeply regretful to tell everyone, Queer Advocacy Online will stop all of our work indefinitely," the group said on WeChat, referring to the name of its social media account.

The group's accounts on WeChat and Weibo have since been closed. One member of the group, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to the AP that LGBT Rights Advocacy China had halted activities but declined to explain the reason behind the decision.

China's Ministry of Civil Affairs announced Friday that it had addressed 3,300 illegal social organizations, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, and also closed down about 200 illegal websites and social media accounts not affiliated with government entities. It was not immediately clear if LGBT Rights Advocacy China was one of the organizations shut down in the government crackdown, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

LGBT Advocacy Group
The LGBT advocacy group in China that has spearheaded many of the country's legal cases pushing for greater rights, announced on social media on November 5, it is halting its work for the foreseeable future. Above, an online post about the work of the LGBT Rights Advocacy Group with a link to its social media account Queer Advocacy Online is displayed on a phone in Beijing, on November 5. Ng Han Guan/AP Photo

Group founder Peng Yanzi did not respond to a request for comment.

LGBT Rights Advocacy China did work across the country, pushing for the rights of gay people and raising awareness about the community. It advocated for same-sex marriage and fought workplace discrimination by helping individuals sue their former employers.

While there are many other groups focused on helping LGBT individuals, LGBT Rights Advocacy is one of a handful who focused on changing law and policy.

The group mentioned it was in trouble a few months ago, said a 30-year-old LGBT activist who knows the group's founders and who spoke on condition of anonymity. Lawyers who helped the group with cases had also stopped their work then.

LGBT Rights Advocacy China was co-founded by Peng and another activist named AQiang in 2013, and it focused its efforts on securing legal rights for LGBT individuals through strategic lawsuits.

One of the group's most high-profile cases came early on in 2014, when Peng himself went undercover to a facility that claimed it could "treat" homosexuality with electroshock therapy. He sued the company and won.

The group often brought landmark cases to the court, challenging the law to make space for nontraditional families, and often helped start public discussions on those issues.

In April last year, it helped a lesbian sue for custody rights for her children after her partner took them and stopped communicating with her. She had given birth to one of the two children. Under Chinese law, she could claim she was the birth mother of one child, but wanted to fight for the right to see the other as well. Her case is still lingering in court.

The group also helped a young woman sue textbook publishers for writing that homosexuality was a disorder in a high-profile case that gained national prominence and was reported on by state media. She lost the case in February, after years of litigation.

"In the entire community, they gave us a lot of hope and guidance, giving everyone the confidence to go out there and do something," said a 34-year-old man, who sued his former employer in 2018 for discrimination and won with the help of the group. He declined to be named out of fear of retribution, citing the current environment.

Homosexuality is not a crime in China, and in bigger cities, there's a vibrant social scene where LGBT individuals can socialize without much fear or discrimination. However, restrictions on advocacy groups and online censorship have grown.

In July, WeChat shut down dozens of accounts run by university students and nonprofit groups on LGBT topics.

One LGBT blogger, who also declined to be named out of fear of retribution, said it's getting increasingly difficult to run an LGBT group in current circumstances, noting that WeChat and other social media platforms are deleting related content.

Shanghai Pride canceled its annual event in 2020 and said it would no longer hold it without explanation after 11 years of operation.

Another well-known group, True Self, which often held events to teach families how to accept their LGBT children, would tell people to not mention the word gay in publicizing its events, said the man who had previously sued his employer for discrimination. "The space for acceptance for sexual minorities is less and less, it's not like before," he said.

Pandemic restrictions also played a role in cutting down on the number of events the groups would hold, he added.

For now, groups are struggling to operate within the constraints.

"The future may bring more uncertainties, we await the day when we can lift the clouds and see the daylight," LGBT Rights Advocacy China said in its post.

Queer Advocacy Online Display
LGBT Rights Advocacy China revealed Thursday that it would shut down its social media accounts and halt all activities. Above, Queer Advocacy Online, the social media account of the LGBT Rights Advocacy Group is seen with a notice saying it has ceased is displayed on a phone in Beijing, on November 5. Ng Han Guan/AP Photo

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