AH QIANG is an activist and executive director of PFLAG China (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of China).
PFLAG China, founded on June 28, 2008, is the country’s largest non-profit serving advocacy organizations in China of the LGBT community and their families. PFLAG China encourages LGBT people to embrace their own identity and to improve communication and understanding. PFLAG China organizes events, dialogues, exchanges, helpline, lectures, and other activities. PFLAG China strives to encourage meetings where parents and friends can looking for help to learn how to support their LGBT kids and friends. LGBT volunteer’s families and friends of LGBT advocate equality between sexual orientations and improve the social visibility of LGBT people.
Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti
This is a selected interview from
Planet China Vol. 05 issue
China-underground: How did you understand that you wanted to be an activist and how did you start?
Ah Qiang: When I first came into contact with the Internet, it was 1998. At that time, I realized that there are many sexual minorities in the world like me. At that time, homosexuality was considered abnormal. In China, I have hardly heard of anyone who will publicly come out. I didn’t know how to fight for equal rights for myself. I expected to wait for a powerful official, or an influential star to come out. I think only they can influence others. I have waited for two years and have grown and studied on the Internet. Since 2000, I have made special contributions for a gay website, and then I volunteered for a nonprofit organization to answer the gay hot-line. At first, I didn’t think I became an activist. I was just a volunteer. With continuous investment, I found myself very fond of doing these things. Later I founded PFLAG China.
当我最开始接触互联网，那是1998年，那时候，我才知道这个世界上有很多跟我一样的性少数。那时候同性恋被认为变态，在中国几乎没有听说过谁会公开出柜，我也不知道如何去为自己争取平等权益，我期望等待一个有权力的官员，或者有影响力的明星出柜，我认为只有他们才能影响别人。我等待了两年，也是在互联网上成长和学习了两年，从2000年开始，我为一个同志网站做特约撰稿，然后又. 去一个公益组织接听同志热线，刚开始，我并不认为自己成为activist，我只是做一位志愿者，做力所能及的事情，随着持续的投入，我发现自己非常喜欢做这些事情，后来创办了PFLAG China.
Ah Qiang is producer of Mama Rainbow a documentary that exploring a pioneer generation of Chinese parents that have been stepping up and speaking out on their love for their gay kids
What are the main difficulties and problems you have faced in your path as an activist?
I think there are three things that are most difficult. First, the participation of the LGBT community is very low. At first, most people were unwilling to participate. The fear itself made it difficult for us to carry out our work. Second, the policy restrictions on NGOs in the LGBT field. We have no way to carry out the work. We were unable to obtain legal status, and this was a big limitation. Third, the understanding of public welfare in the entire Chinese society is still insufficient, and there is less understanding of NGOs in the LGBT field, and it is difficult to obtain sufficient financial support.
How does PFLAG China help to encourage LGBT people to embrace their own identity?
Through hot-line answers and encouragement, we organize offline sharing sessions and symposiums. We encourage lonely LGBT individuals to participate in offline activities and establish real links with the community. In this strong link relationship, they have a chance to accept themselves better. Moreover, in this sharing, many people will see that others around the LGBT community have already recognized themselves, come out, and live the life they want, which will encourage them.
PFLAG China holds a National LGBT Conference annually in different cities of China from 2009
Are there differences working on the territory, for region to region?
Yes, we have different strategies in different areas. Because China is very large, between the northwest and the coastal areas of China, there may be a 15-year gap on LGBT issues, while China’s northeast is more talkative, the local private economy is implemented, and more people work within the system. According to these situations, we design our activities. For example, in coastal cities, we will hold big events, and in some area, we emphasize small sharing and face-to-face communication with parents.
What has been achieved and what is still to be done in the field of rights in China?
I think the most important thing is that the visibility of the LGBT people is getting higher and higher. This is the biggest achievement of the Chinese gay movement in the past 10 years. Moreover, quite a few people in the society no longer think that LGBT is morbid. The marriage rights of the sexual minority, non-discriminatory legislation, adoption rights, etc., have not yet succeeded.
How social prejudice impact on Chinese families to accept their children’s sexuality?
Chinese society places special emphasis on family culture, face culture, succession, filial piety, etc., which affect the family’s acceptance of LGBT loved ones. Our job is to promote cultural change, and this change is sometimes very fast for the family’s small environment, but rather slow for the whole social culture. It will be quite slow. Some people put traditional values before their kids’ happiness, which will affect their ability to love them.
PFLAG China launched the first 400 hotline for LGBT people and their parents. It is answered by parents of gays and lesbians as well as psychiatrists in order to provide correct information and support to help them with their difficulties
What best advice for those who are afraid of “coming out”? Why shouldn’t hesitate too long?
My usual advice is if you wait another 10 years, will you change into heterosexuality? If you can’t, then you have been waiting for 10 years, let yourself waste more time, can’t be yourself. Hesitation and procrastination will not make parents happy and they will not be happy. Many people will think that. Many people will think that they do not come out of the closet, is for the love of their parents. But in fact, they don’t have the courage to cross this level. I would recommend them to grow up. Only if a person has the courage, he can only face the incident, and he will not be afraid to do it.
What role do social media play in contemporary activism in China?
Social media plays a very important role in the gay movement. From the BLOG era, social media has changed. We wait to be described by others, everyone can speak, everyone can define their own life, everyone can share their own stories. Social media has educated more LGBT learners to be themselves, and social media has given LGBT a platform and possibilities for voice. It can be said that the development of China’s LGBT movement is closely linked to the advancement of social media and technology, and social media has greatly promoted the LGBT movement.
What can you tell us about Valentine’s Day promotions initiative of Alibaba offering weddings in California and “Rainbow Love” contest on Taobao? Did they help to open dialogue and remove some taboo?
That was in 2015. At that time, Taobao, through its gay marriage marketing campaign, found PFLAG, Beijing Gay Center, Blued, and others to work together to mobilize the community’s gay partners to participate, and eventually went to California for a gay collective wedding that had greater influence in Chinese society. But in the last two years, as the policy has tightened, I have not seen Alibaba participate in any new gay community, they are a business, they may be more concerned about their own interests, and the concern for LGBT interests is not more positive than other Chinese companies.
这是2015年的事情了，当时Taobao通过了同志结婚的营销策划，找到了PFLAG 、北京同志中心 、Blued等，大家一起配合，动员社群的同志伴侣参与，并最终去到California举办了同志集体婚礼，这个活动，在中国社会带来较大的影响力。
Photos courtesy of Ah Qiang
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Ciao! My name is Dominique. I’m Italian and I’m proud to be a mix. My father was an Italian chemical engineer and high school teacher, with Greek and Polish heritage. My mother is Haitian, she was high school language teacher, with Dominican, Spanish, French, Portuguese, African and Native American heritage. Being a mix makes me appreciate to want to understand different cultures and lifestyles. I grew up in Italy, lived few years in Haiti, travel around main European capitals, lived seven years in China, six in Spain and UK. Traveling makes me feel that we can learn something from every situation in every part of the world.