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Why is China raising the prospect of same-sex marriage?

As recently as August, a representative had dismissed same-sex marriage as contrary to Chinese culture.

By Eric Baculinao

 

NBC News (07.01.2020) – https://nbcnews.to/36A2RXn – China has taken a step forward to allow same-sex marriage, a move that could undo years of discrimination, delight rights activists and give new rights to the LGBTQ community “after years of hiding and struggling.”

 

A body of the National People’s Congress, the country’s highest law-making institution, has publicly acknowledged petitions to legalize same-sex marriage, a rare development that has triggered a nationwide discussion of a topic that was once taboo.

 

Expectations are raised that the nation, which is led by the Communist Party, might eventually join the growing number of countries that have passed legislation protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

 

“We were very happy, pleasantly surprised by the news!” declared Peng Yanzi, director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China.

 

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, homosexuality has been banned or suppressed. However, China’s open door policies in the early 1980s set in motion social and cultural changes that would lead Beijing to decriminalize homosexuality in 1997 and remove it from an official list of mental disorders in 2001.

 

In time, major cities would witness lively gay and lesbian scenes with the proliferation of clubs and bars. But many forms of age-old prejudice and restrictions against the LGBTQ population persist, with activists citing issues ranging from employment discrimination and forced “therapy” to lack of “marriage equality.”

 

On Dec. 20, a spokesman was quoted as saying the legislative commission had received more than 230,000 online suggestions and letters on legalizing same-sex marriage. The topic triggered 400 million views on China’s Twitter-like Weibo and sparked a lively debate on domestic social media, according to state-run newspapers.

 

But as recently as August, a representative of the same body had dismissed same-sex marriage as contrary to Chinese culture and stressed that China’s marriage system was based on the union of “man and woman.”

 

In China, after collecting public opinion, a bill can be drafted and deliberated several times before it is finalized, published again for public comment and submitted to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee for enactment.

 

“It felt unreal,” Gao Qianhui, 21, a lesbian in Shenzhen, just across Hong Kong, said when asked about her reaction to the news from the legislative commission, to which she also wrote a petition supporting same-sex marriage.

 

“I know it’s just a proposal and it’s most likely not going to be realized in the near future, but the fact this topic is now publicly and officially on the table gives the LGBT community hope for the first time after years of hiding and struggling,” she told NBC News.

 

The apparent change of stance is “a promising and positive step,” said Hu Zhijun, director of PFLAG, another advocacy group named after the large LGBTQ rights group in the United States.

 

The shift even seemed to extend to the cinema — the first gay kiss of the “Star Wars” film franchise recently made it to China’s theaters. That followed a few months after scenes of homosexuality in the biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” were deleted by Chinese censors.

 

For China’s LGBTQ community, the changing government stance reflects a changing climate of opinion due to the “greater open-mindedness” of the Chinese public, especially the younger generation, Hu said.

 

That China appears to be moving toward liberalizing its stance on LGBTQ issues reflects the “inevitable trend,” Peng said. “As the country becomes stronger economically, its civilization must also keep up.”

 

Given the international environment, same-sex marriage legislation “could be used strategically to improve China’s human rights reputation,” said Timothy Hildebrandt, an associate professor of social policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science who has conducted in-depth research on China’s LGBTQ issues.

 

“But I doubt that, even if passed, the government would put it into human rights terms,” he said, as Beijing could be accused of being “cynical” in light of human rights criticism involving Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

 

“That these conversations are happening at all, and that the government seems open to potentially putting it on the political agenda, are certainly positive steps,” he added.

 

But Peng and Hu are realistic about the long-term campaigns ahead. While official recognition of the issue of same-sex marriage is an improvement, it may take many years before it could become law.

 

“The important thing is that it’s no longer possible for society to stay where it was 10 years ago,” Peng said, arguing that the acceptability of gay marriage to the younger generation has “exceeded” the imagination of Chinese officialdom.

 

While noting that China has its own dynamics and pace, Hu pointed to Taiwan’s legalization of same-sex marriage in May, the first such legalization in Asia, as proof that traditional Chinese culture is open to same-sex unions.

 

For Hu Xingdou, an independent social affairs commentator based in Beijing who is a former economics professor, China’s shifting stance reflects the country’s greater engagement with the outside world.

 

“With globalization, China cannot but take into account the changing legal systems in other countries and will try to join the global mainstream,” he said.





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WORLD: Merriam-Webster adds nonbinary ‘they’ pronoun to dictionary

The new entry explicitly refers to nonbinary people — those who identify as neither exclusively male nor female.

 

By Liam Knox

 

NBC News (18.09.2019) – https://nbcnews.to/2knJHRO – Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is adding a new entry to the definition of the pronoun “they”: a way to refer to a nonbinary individual, one who identifies as neither exclusively male nor female.

 

It’s been a year of heightened visibility for nonbinary people, from the popularity of MTV’s “sexually fluid” season of the dating show “Are You the One?” — which counted nonbinary folks among its cast members — to the Grammy-winning artist Sam Smith’s recent decision to use gender-neutral they/them pronouns. Merriam-Webster’s addition is yet another recognition of the cultural relevance and growing acceptance of nonbinary identity, and it gives new credence to the increasingly common use of they/them pronouns.

 

Emily Brewster, a senior editor for Merriam-Webster, said factors like the growing practice of soliciting or giving out one’s pronouns, the growing number of people who identify as nonbinary, and the acceptance of the nonbinary “they” pronoun in a wide variety of texts all coalesced to make the new addition an obvious choice.

 

“We are always aiming to reflect usage,” she said. “It’s very clear that this is fully established in the language at this point.”

 

The nonbinary “they” is one of 530 new words and definitions already added to Merriam-Webster.com and will appear in its next printed edition, alongside words like “fabulosity” and cultural references like “dad joke.”

 

The singular “they” pronoun has been in use since the 1300s, according to Merriam-Webster, and it had already been included in the company’s dictionary as a gender-neutral way to refer to someone whose identity is unknown or whose existence is hypothetical. What’s new is its use as a pronoun for individuals who identify as nonbinary.

 

To those who are reluctant to embrace the singular “they” for grammatical reasons, Brewster pointed out that this kind of shift in the use of a pronoun has happened before. If people could adapt to it then, she said, they can learn to embrace it now.

 

“The word ‘you’ used to be only plural, which is why we still use the plural verb. We say ‘you are’ even though we’re only speaking to one person,” she said. “We also must adapt to the ‘they are’ for an individual person, and we can.”

 

Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth crisis prevention organization, identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. They said Merriam-Webster’s addition of the nonbinary definition will hopefully help bolster a better understanding of nonbinary identity.

 

“My day-to-day life consists of helping those around me understand that my pronouns, they and them, are a part of my identity,” Brinton wrote in an email to NBC News. “To have Merriam-Webster so openly educate others on the simplicity of the nonbinary use of they and them pronouns is going to make each coming day a little easier for thousands if not millions of LGBTQ youth.”

 

On Twitter, reactions were a predictable mix of excitement from the LGBTQ community and allies, and disdain from grammar purists and those who do not support gender-nonconforming identities.

 

Brewster said she’s glad nonbinary people feel validated by the dictionary’s decision, but she stressed that Merriam-Webster doesn’t legitimize language — people do, and the singular, gender-neutral “they” has been a legitimate term in that sense for a long time.

 

“The word exists. You don’t actually need a dictionary to legitimize the words,” she said. “But of course if it can serve that function I’m happy for it to do so.”


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