Two gay female students at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, identified only by their surnames “Huang” and “Li,” told Radio Free Asia (RFA) this weekend that the Chinese Communist Party’s court system has completely ignored their lawsuit in defense of rainbow flags on campus.
The women filed a lawsuit against the Chinese Ministry of Education in February for refusing to hear their appeal after the university disciplined them for handing out rainbow flags. The considerable attention from international media has not, at press time, appeared to spur China to act to address the suit.
Tsinghua University is one of China’s most prestigious academic institutions and the alma mater of genocidal communist dictator Xi Jinping.
The two students left ten rainbow flags on a table at a university supermarket on May 17 to mark the “International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Lesbophobia, and Transphobia.” The display of rainbow flags was accompanied by a note that said, “Please take one. #PRIDE.”
Huang and Li told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Saturday that they chose the spot because the supermarket seemingly had no camera surveillance, as demonstrated by students who previously got away with putting up forbidden posters on the walls. The gay student activists quickly learned the supermarket, like just about every square inch of China, does have extensive camera surveillance now.
Huang and Li were swiftly identified and slapped with disciplinary action for “distributing promotional materials on campus without authorization.” When they petitioned against this reprimand, they were hit with another for causing a “negative impact” on campus life.
The reprimands made them ineligible for scholarships for six months and set them up to receive even more stringent reprimands with more serious penalties if they persisted in disruptive behavior. The next level of punishment could have barred them from applying for jobs with the government or state-run industries, which is a rather severe obstacle for the subjects of a fascist dictatorship that owns or controls most corporations.
“Moves against the rainbow flag are not unprecedented, but compared with what students in the past were able to get away with, this seems disproportionate. This incident is the latest example of university authorities increasingly constraining space for LGBT advocacy and expression — even when it is mild and low-key,” Yale Law School senior fellow Darius Longarino told Bloomberg News when the disciplinary action against Huang and Li was announced.
Huang and Li appealed first to the university, and then to the Beijing Municipal Education System, without success. The Ministry of Education curtly dismissed their application for administrative review in February because their case supposedly did not “fall within the scope of administrative reconsideration.”
The students decided to sue the Ministry of Education for refusing to hear their case. Knowing the odds were against them, they tried slipping a WeChat post about their lawsuit past censors by referring to Tsinghua University as “Hogwarts” and calling the Ministry of Education the “Ministry of Magic,” names borrowed from the Harry Potter books. They included a photo of themselves in the Beijing courtroom with their faces covered by close-up photos of a dog and a cat.
This subterfuge did not work for long, as censors soon erased their WeChat post, even though it had accumulated over 100,000 views. Huang and Li did not expect their symbolic lawsuit to go anywhere, but they thought it could still be useful for “raising public awareness.”
“We feel a bit pessimistic about getting a win in the ruling,” Huang told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in February.
While the court has studiously ignored them, Huang and Li have been able to get coverage for their suit from foreign media every few weeks, usually accompanied by commentary that China’s government has been increasingly restrictive toward “LGBTQ expression” over the past few years, possibly due in part to Chinese Communist Party anxiety over demographic decline. Gay activists generally feel that Chinese society has become more understanding even as the government cracks down harder on them.
“This case shows that the rainbow flag – the symbol of queer pride and solidarity – has become a target of surveillance and censorship by the university authorities, who are vigilant against any form of student activism,” researcher Cui Le told Times Higher Education when discussing the Huang and Li case in March.
“I was in a state of anger every day, but I knew I was doing the right thing, so I didn’t feel scared,” Li told RFA on Saturday. “It felt more as if I was getting some good practice in how to defend my own dignity, and that of my companion, and in not backing down.”
Li added that her dim view of the Chinese Communist government was solidified by her experiences during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
“I knew that a lot of people in my community had died, and I was affected by knowing that my neighbors were dying. Since then, I’ve had no illusions about the current system at all,” she said.
“For me, this is a political declaration, and I have to take it all the way, or I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” she said.
RFA noted that gay activists enthusiastically joined the “white paper protests” against China’s lockdown policies in December, a movement that was ultimately successful in getting the repressive government to change its position. The article did not say whether Huang and Li joined in those protests themselves.
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