China’s LGBT+ community demands to be counted after a lifetime of erasure

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China’s latest census didn’t have space to recognise same-sex couples, but the LGBT+ community is demanding to be counted anyway.

The census, which began on 1 November and only occurs every ten years, asks participants their “relationship to head of household”.

Many on social media have been encouraging LGBT+ couples to tell the census takers: “They are not my roommate, they are my partner.”

LGBT Rights Advocacy China started the campaign on social media to help LGBT+ couples in China gain visibility.

Peng Yanzi, director of the organisation, said that there is a growing acceptance of LGBT+ couples in China, but “the system hasn’t kept up with the times”.

He said that many LGBT+ people refer to their partners as roommates or friends.

“These census takers may have never met, or even heard of, gay people,” he added. “So if we have the opportunity to talk to them, they can better understand the LGBT community. We are a part of China’s population.”

The National Bureau of Statistics said it will not record anything outside the pre-defined responses for this category.

Homosexuality has been legal in China since 1997, but the LGBT+ community is still campaigning for marriage equality.

Lauren, a resident of Shanghai, told the South China Morning Post that she declared that she lived with her girlfriend to the census taker. She didn’t want to use her surname because of the current climate around LGBT+ rights in China.

The man taking her census answers ticked the box for “other” on the questionnaire, and wrote “couple” next to it. Lauren said she found the interaction affirming, even though it likely wouldn’t be included in results.

Though Lauren said that she was comfortable speaking out about her relationship, she acknowledged that it may be harder for LGBT+ couples in more conservative areas.

One user on Weibo, a Chinese social platform similar to Twitter, responded to the campaign saying: “I still wouldn’t dare.”

The United States only included the option to declare a same-sex relationship in their census this year. Next year’s census in the UK will also be the first to ask about sexual orientation.

This campaign comes after ShanghaiPRIDE, the first large LGBT+ Pride festival to be held in mainland China, was cancelled indefinitely earlier this year.

Last November, China’s parliament sought the public’s opinions on the marriage and family section of their civil code.

The country’s highest level of state power, the National People’s Congress, publicly acknowledged petitions to legalise marriage equality this year. However, an official has stated that marriage would continue to be “between a man and a woman”.