A retired Chinese women’s volleyball player came out as gay by posting about her girlfriend on a popular Chinese website, a rare coming out by an athlete in the world’s most populous country.

Sun Wenjing, 27, made the announcement in a post on Weibo on Sept. 9, a date with special meaning for those in love, the website SupChina reports.

The 27-year-old athlete last week posted to Weibo (in Chinese) two photos of her and her girlfriend posing against a red background — a style recognized across China as the official setup for images on marriage certificates. The images were dated September 9, 2020, and September 9, 2021.

“She doesn’t have to do anything, but I will fall for her time and time again. Year after year, she’s my everything,” she wrote (in Chinese) in a caption.

The timing of the announcement appeared to be deliberate, as September 9, or 9-9 (九九 jiǔjiǔ), is homophonous to the phrase “久久,” which translates to “forever” in Chinese. Regarded as a symbol of eternity, September 9 is one of the most popular dates for Chinese couples to tie the knot.

Same-sex marriage is banned in China and while being gay is not criminalized, LGBTQ people face discrimination and lack of acceptance; an estimated 95% of LGBTQ people stay in the closet. Last week, the government banned from TV what it called “sissy men” in a cultural crackdown designed to promote men to be more masculine.

It’s against this backdrop that makes Sun publicly announcing being LGBTQ stand out. Her post garnered 60,000 like and more than 4,000 comments, most of them positive. “Both of you are beautiful. Blessings!” wrote one user, according to the South China Morning Post.

Out Chinese athletes are so rare that I can find only two other examples besides Sun. One was surfer Xu Jingsen, who came out in 2018.

The other came in June, when soccer player Lǐ Yǐng came out as lesbian, but received so many negative comments that she deleted a post announcing the one-year anniversary with her girlfriend. Her coming out may have had negative consequences for her career, with SupChina writing, “Although she did not publicly advocate for LGBT+ rights, the star striker was excluded from many recent games involving her team, including the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Many speculated that her disappearance from the public eye was a result of her coming out.”

China sent 431 athletes to the Tokyo Olympics and none were openly LGBTQ. Outsports has been tracking out Olympians since 2000 and there has never been one from China.