China: The Legal Position and Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the People’s Republic of China

By Tom Mountford

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Executive Summary

  1. Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997 and removed from the official list of mental disorders in 2001. However, since these two changes to Chinese law and clinical practice the Chinese government has remained largely silent on the issue of homosexuality. That silence has had two main effects. First, it has stalled any further developments in removing legal discrimination against LGBT people in China. Secondly, it means that the legal status and position of LGBT people is unclear, with varying official treatment across different parts of China. Discrimination against LGBT people continues to be written into many different areas of law in China. Furthermore, as LGBT people in China largely lack legal recognition and legal protections there is no legal certainty as to their position. This results in a situation where the population is unable to clearly determine whether they will face official opposition in meeting together, organizing and providing services within the community.

  2. The legal status and position of homosexuality in China bears the hallmarks of a subject which has been little considered within official Chinese governmental circles. The government seems to have maintained an official silence and general restrictions on the LGBT community based on a cautious, conservative policy. This is often expressed in the Chinese idiom as 不支持, 不反对, 不提倡 (not encouraging, not discouraging and not promoting). However even if the intention of the Chinese authorities is to adopt a cautious policy this is not a neutral policy, and the combination of official policy and official silence entails serious consequences for the LGBT population.

  3. This report analyses the legal position and the legal status of LGBT people by reference to different areas of law. The key issues under each area are as follows:

  4. Civil Society

  5. Laws and regulations continue to place broad restrictions on the diffusion of LGBT-related content across all sections of the media. Laws and regulations continue to define homosexuality as 'abnormal' and fail to differentiate between sexually explicit and non-explicit LGBT content in broadcasts, television programmes and films. The internet provides the most open forum in which LGBT content can be accessed. However recently even the LGBT community’s freedom of expression online has been threatened as the proposed Green Dam internet filtering software, which may still be fitted to all computers in China, would block any website containing the word 'gay' (同性恋 - tongxinglian).

  6. Education

  7. Homosexuality continues to be largely ignored and invisible within the Chinese education system, despite the vulnerability of young LGBT people. There is no reference to sexuality in the regulations on the prescribed personal, health and sexual education curriculum for Chinese students. Furthermore, attempts to register LGBT student societies within China have largely been met with refusal by university authorities. Young LGBT people lack basic support services, which also increases the difficulties in providing accurate health information to the LGBT population.

  8. Police, Security and the Criminal Law

  9. LGBT people continue to suffer from police harassment and arbitrary detention. The police and public security services often use the sexual element of LGBT people's sexuality against them, for example arresting LGBT people for suspected prostitution and using circumstantial items such as possession of condoms as prima facie evidence of the alleged involvement in prostitution. There are continuing problems of LGBT people facing extortion and blackmail from the police and security services, as well as from broader society, at threat of revealing their sexuality.

  10. There is no applicable male rape law within China and perpetrators of rape against men face a maximum sentence of 15 days administrative detention. With an age of consent of 14 years old it is of particular concern that 14-18 year old men are not afforded adequate protection against sexual crime under the criminal law.

  11. Family Law

  12. LGBT couples are not recognized as constituting families. There is no applicable gay marriage, civil or domestic partnership regime in China. LGBT people face a variety of disadvantages in the context of family law from uncertainty in divorce and child custody proceedings to strong restrictions on fertility services and gay parenting. Adoption of Chinese children by foreign LGBT couples and individuals has already been prohibited by the Chinese authorities. The spirit of this regulation raises concerns that this explicit prohibition may be applicable or extendable to single Chinese LGBT people who seek to adopt a child.

  13. Labour

  14. There is no applicable anti-discrimination provision for LGBT people at work under Chinese Labour Law. The Labour Law specifically protects workers against discrimination on the basis of a person’s ethnicity, gender or religion. However there are no applicable provisions against discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. This is particularly significant given anecdotal evidence that much of the blackmail and extortion used against LGBT people is contingent upon threats to reveal a person's sexuality to their employer or colleagues.

  15. Transgendered People

  16. Transgendered people face serious levels of police harassment in China. The transgendered community also faces particular difficulties in obtaining employment. The Chinese authorities are currently consulting on new rules on gender realignment surgery. In certain aspects these rules fail to meet international standards on individual autonomy and privacy.

  17. Health and HIV/AIDS

  18. LGBT people continue to have difficulty in accessing accurate information on HIV/AIDS. Sufferers of HIV have difficulty accessing adequate medical and personal support. HIV/AIDS has become associated with homosexuality in the public mind in China. Discrimination continues in many contexts of Chinese life against HIV/AIDS sufferers, despite the express prohibitions against discrimination in the Regulation on Aids Prevention and Treatment 2006. There is a general prohibition against the donation of blood by homosexual people of either sex in China.


Tom Mountford is a Barrister, admitted to the Bar of England and Wales. He is a graduate of Oxford University, Peking University (Beijing) and City University (London). He has particular research interests in the legal systems and history of East Asia and in human rights, administrative and regulatory law. This research was undertaken on a research scholarship from the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.