Seven brave out Olympians participated in the 2014 Sochi Games, the last time the Olympics were held in a country with an authoritarian government that’s vehemently anti-LGBTQ. That number promises to be much higher when the 2022 Winter Olympics kick off next month in Beijing, given at least 186 out athletes just competed in the Summer Games.
Those athletes need our support.
The Chinese Communist Party is becoming increasingly hostile towards LGBTQ people and anybody who doesn't follow traditional gender norms. The latest strike came last fall, when the Chinese government banned effeminate men on TV.
In recent years, China’s ruling party has tightened its grip on all aspects of civil society, ranging from culture to education. The edicts are part of President Xi Jinping’s “national rejuvenation” campaign, which is supposedly meant to restore China’s place as a great international power.
But in reality, the crackdowns do nothing but suppress personal identity. And that’s precisely the point.
In September, China’s government ordered broadcasters to “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics” from appearing on TV. As the New York Times explains, in a country where political expression is all but forbidden, popular culture is the last vestige of individualism.
One popular Chinese pop star, Cai Xukun, often sported makeup and blonde bangs on social media. But two weeks after the decree was announced, he started taking on a more masculine and gritty look. Cai’s hair, for example, is now jet black.
Male pop stars who embrace gender fluidity, affectionally known as “little fresh meat,” appear to be some of the campaign’s primary targets. “Their image — antithetical to the patriarchal and stoic qualities traditionally associated with Chinese men — is changing the face of masculinity in China,” the NYT wrote in 2019.
Like other crackdowns on expression, Xi’s war against “sissy men” is nothing more than a distraction. China is experiencing serious economic and social issues, ranging from a lack of upward mobility to a dearth of affordable housing in major cities.
When situations worsen, authoritarians often look for scapegoats.
As we know, sports are a reflection of society, and out Chinese athletes are almost non-existent. That’s why it was so remarkable to see a retired Chinese women’s volleyball player come out as gay last September. Sun Wenjing, 27, made her announcement on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media app.
But when a major active Chinese athlete publicly came out last year, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Soccer player Lǐ Yǐng came out as lesbian in June, only to eventually delete her post following a rash of incendiary comments.
Not coincidently, the star striker was excluded from the Tokyo Games. China sent 431 athletes to the Summer Olympics and none were publicly out as LGBTQ. Outsports has been tracking out Olympians since 2000 and there has never been one from China that we know of.
An estimated 95% of LGBTQ people in China stay in the closet.
With the IOC turning a blind eye to the plight of repressed LGBTQ people — the governing body shamefully claims gay rights are political — it will be up to the media and athletes themselves to highlight the plight of LGBTQ people in China.
The U.S. has already announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games, due to the ongoing genocide of religious minorities in China’s western provinces. You can add the hostile treatment of LGBTQ people to the long list of China’s human rights abuses.
Out LGBTQ athletes will be visible at the Beijing Games, despite the Chinese Communist Party’s best efforts. May their bravery be celebrated, and faces shown all over our TVs here in the free world.