For the first time in Chinese history, a high profile athlete has come out as lesbian. The athlete in question is 28 year old Li Ying who plays as a striker in the Chinese Women's Super League for Shandong Ladies.
The news broke a few weeks ago when Li revealed on Weibo (A Chinese website similar to twitter and instagram) that she had a girlfriend and that the pair had been together for a year. She shared photos of them together celebrating their 1st year anniversary and wrote a post in Chinese saying “All of my affection comes from you and belongs to you”. Her girlfriend and influencer Chen Leilei, also shared similar posts.
Whilst this may not seem like a big deal for those of us like myself, who live in countries where homosexuality is (usually) accepted and there are no laws against it. The same cannot be said about China.
It is very much a country in which being homosexual or part of the LGBTQ+ community is met with such disgust, hate and animosity. It is so bad in fact, that in a 2016 survey conducted by the United Nation Development Program, that 95% of LGBTQ+ citizens in China will choose to 'stay in the closet'. This is because being openly homosexual in China can lead to abuse, discrimination and even severe violence. The laws in the country hinder almost any progression being made with accepting LGBGTQ+ citizens. For example, they are not allowed to adopt, not allowed to give blood, not allowed in the military, in some areas may not be allowed to purchase a home, have no protection against employment discrimination and may be forced into conversion therapy.
That is why Li Ying coming out is such a monumental step in gaining acceptance in China. Not that anyone should have to gain acceptance anyway.
But even with Li's strength and bravery to be open, she soon felt the pressure and response from people to be too much and deleted the posts alongside her girlfriend. This decision came following severe vitriol, bigoted, ignorant and threatening comments she received across social media. Some stating they were 'disgusting' 'abominations', asking for details on their sex life, threats of violence and death threats.
It is so sad to see and hear. Especially given the fact that there were many positive messages from people who admired their courage, bravery, thanked them for sharing their story and commented in Chinese, things such as 'Blessings to you both' and 'You look great together'. However, the negatives unfortunately outweighed the positives and it understandably became too much for Li.
Whilst it is difficult enough for any Chinese citizen to be true to who they are with all of the stigma and hate, it is even worse for those with higher profiles such as athletes, actors and politicians as they have to do their utmost to cover up who they are. Those such as Li Ying, who had lived a large part of their life lying about who they are and when they do come out, are met with such backlash.
Some football fans and general members of the public feel that Li has suffered from discrimination as a footballer since coming out. She has been suspiciously kept out of various big international games across the year since she started sharing more photos of her and her girlfriend and attempting to be vocal about her sexuality.This is despite good performances. But fans also speculate that Li was getting pressure from those higher up in the football assocation to stop being vocal and to delete the posts.
Myself, many fans and people in China can only hope that these strict laws and outdated views are soon changed in the future and that Li Ying can live her life being unapologetically true to herself. As well as every other LGBTQ+ citizen.
Despite her posts being taken down, I hope some who saw and read the post, felt hopeful and brave enough to do the same. Thank you Li Ying!