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    Pride celebrations shrink in China, despite rise of pink yuan

    Brands face the challenge of treading a fine line between adhering to government restrictions and engaging China’s large LGBTQ+ community through localized initiatives.
    Queer Run Crew organized a 5km Pride Run in Shanghai on June 17, with approximately 30 LGBTQ+ members and their friends participating. It was one of the few Pride Month events to take place in China this year. Photo: QRC
    Jason WangAuthor
      Published   in Macro

    What happened

    Amid the vibrant celebrations of Pride Month around the world, LGBTQ+ events in China this year exuded a subdued atmosphere. ShanghaiPride, one of the country's oldest Pride events, has been on hold since 2020 without any official explanation as to why.

    The event faced restrictions in 2020 due to the government’s increasingly stringent controls on civil society and clampdown on public endorsements of LGBTQ+ rights. Strict regulations on political protests also compelled ShanghaiPride to arrange alternative activities like dance parties, community runs, and film screenings in place of parades.

    However, even these activities faced limitations, with only a few low-key events taking place this year.

    In Shanghai, Queer Run Crew organized a 5km Pride Run on June 17, with approximately 30 LGBTQ+ members and their friends participating. A smaller scale Rainbow Bike Ride, covering a distance of 15km, was held on July 2 to promote diversity and inclusion, and a drag show scheduled for June 23 at a nightclub in Shanghai was canceled due to complaints from members of the public.

    Raining on the parade: A government crackdown on LGBTQ+ advocacy limited the scope of Pride Month celebrations in China. Photo: QRC
    Raining on the parade: A government crackdown on LGBTQ+ advocacy limited the scope of Pride Month celebrations in China. Photo: QRC

    The Jing Take

    China’s LGBTQ+ community was estimated to have reached 74.7 million individuals by the end of 2019, boasting significant purchasing power of $636 billion, according to Daxue Consulting, a market research and strategy consulting firm focusing on the Chinese market.

    This makes China the largest LGBTQ+ market globally. Consequently, many businesses, not least those in fashion, health and luxury, view this demographic as a potentially lucrative opportunity.

    While China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from the country’s list of psychiatric disorders in 2001, same-sex marriage is still banned.

    A survey conducted by the United Nations Development Program in 2015 revealed that only 5 percent of individuals within China’s LGBTQ+ community felt comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to people outside their families. Furthermore, less than 15 percent of respondents shared this aspect of their lives with their families.

    Despite the majority of LGBTQ+ individuals in China choosing to remain reticent about being open about their identities due to fear of social stigma, some are willing to openly express their sexuality.

    One such individual is Shawn, who requested to go by his English first name.

    With his family's acceptance, the 28-year-old social media influencer who came out to his mother eight years ago opened social media accounts on Bilibili and Douyin, titled Call Me Kangkang Shawn, where he discusses a range of LGBTQ+ issues with the aim of raising awareness and providing guidance for those struggling with their own identities.

    In addition to his advocacy work, Shawn is also undertaking a photography project called "Better Together," which aims to capture over 140 LGBTQ+ members in China and showcase glimpses of their lives.

    China-based social media influencer Shawn is photographing over 140 LGBTQ+ members in the country to showcase glimpses of their lives. Photo: Shawn
    China-based social media influencer Shawn is photographing over 140 LGBTQ+ members in the country to showcase glimpses of their lives. Photo: Shawn

    Signs of increased inclusivity are emerging in China. In January 2020, Tmall, the e-commerce platform owned by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, unveiled a 23-second Lunar New Year-themed commercial featuring a gay Chinese couple.

    Da Kai, an active member of Shanghai’s LGBTQ+ community who requested to use his nickname, notes that more global brands are engaging in marketing campaigns in China showing support during Pride Month.

    “Brands like Durex and Coca-Cola have created impactful posters. For instance, Coca-Cola designed a poster with beverages in colors resembling the LGBTQ+ flag, conveying a sense of support for diversity and pride,” he said.

    Though brands’ acknowledgement of Pride Month in China is muted, any form of support for the LGBTQ+ community should be welcomed as an act of recognition and encouragement, Da Kai says.

    Despite the challenges, China’s LGBTQ+ community is resilient and determined, and there are signs of a gradual shift toward greater inclusivity.

    With a growing market and a resilient community, brands face the challenge of treading a fine line between adhering to government restrictions and engaging China’s large LGBTQ+ community through localized initiatives.

    The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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