Li Yinhe: Fighting for LGBT Rights

November 9, 2012
Editor: Sun Xi
Li Yinhe []

Li Yinhe []

Just before the opening of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sessions in China this year, acclaimed sociologist Li Yinhe sought in vain for an NPC member who was willing to submit a proposal on legalizing same-sex marriage.

As China's first female sociologist specializing in sex studies, it was yet another in a long string of fruitless efforts. For her, it was the fourth such failure in the last 11 years. Such challenges and failures have become the normal pattern of her life for the past 20 years.

However, she is not disheartened and does not intend to give up. While enjoying her life after retirement, she is still positive that China will improve its stance on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights and she continues to work towards achieving it.

Despite having retired from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences earlier this year, Li is still passionate about her chosen field. She is currently writing an essay-style novel about ideal interpersonal relationships.

Since 1998, Li's every lecture and every statement has become fodder for news and controversy. She does not hesitate to defend homosexuality, non-monogamous relationships, one night stands and swinging from the condemnation hurled at these activities by society.

It's obvious that Li's sympathies are with the marginalized people of society and she is quick to defend behaviors that are rejected by mainstream society. Her views collide with those of the majority of the public, and it's unsurprising that she has encountered a considerable amount of backlash for her controversial views.

"Social change is a very slow process, as conventional forces are often too powerful. Thus, we find the phenomenon of cultural lag in theoretical studies. I'm not anxious. I'll stick to it. I believe that one day, maybe 10 or 20 years from now, I will succeed," Li said.

In fact, Li does not consider her opinions to be all that controversial, compared to those of her peers in developed countries. "Any politician in developed countries has to know what LGBT stands for, or else his or her career would never be able to take off," she said, "But there are still eight countries in the world where homosexuality is punished with the death penalty."

In her view, China's culture is not that resistant to the issue of homosexuality. She believes that her same-sex marriage proposal is not unrealistic.

Li's work has also made her popular with LGBT people, both in and outside China. A well-known judge from Australia, who came out of the closet, calls Li his 'hero'. And many LGBT people in China call her 'Mother Li'. Over 20 years of studying homosexuality has truly brought Li closer to their lives.

"I started getting into contact with this disadvantaged group in the late 1980s. At that time, I treated them purely as my study subjects. But now, I am closely involved with their lives and consider them to be my friends. What I can do is to win more understanding for them and speak out for them," she said.

Li also said that China has made considerable improvements in decriminalizing homosexuality and reducing social discrimination. "There are gay bars now and gay rights organizations are very active. In fact, LGBT people in China often have a very positive life attitude. Many celebrities have also come out of the closet," she said.

While some people worry that legalizing gay marriage will destroy the existing social order and encourage homosexuality, Li explains why this is not so.

According to her, relevant surveys show that it is genetic factors that mainly decide one's sexual orientation. "Whether in Arab countries or in Western countries, the proportion of gay people is stable at around 3 to 4 percent," she said.

She also thinks that it is the natural result of social change that some women are more masculine and some men more feminine.

Li also insists that in sexual matters, the three basic principles are free will, privacy, and legal adulthood.

"I have always been opposed to extramarital affairs or mistresses, which I feel are immoral practices. But they should not be classified as crimes if they do not violate the three principles. Moral intolerance and legal intolerance are two different things. I'm not encouraging these things, but I just don't think they should be punished as crimes," Li explained.

Li said that she is lucky to live in a world with Internet and micro-blogs, because she can use them to express her opinions on public issues.

"I have to stand up and speak out about the unfair things that are happening in our society. Many people do support my opinions. I hope that in time, all of this will make a difference to the lives of China's LGBT people," said Li.

(Source: and edited by

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