Topline: Things need to get better for everybody, not just some people

It’s hard to watch crackdowns on LGBTQ+ people in China and other countries

Paul Gallant

Greetings, amigos, and welcome to this week’s “Topline.” I’m Paul Gallant, interim culture editor here at Xtra, and I hope, as you’re reading this, that I’m on a beach somewhere and that you are also in some sort of happy place. Regardless, I’m here to stir things up a bit, get a conversation going and tempt you, if you haven’t succumbed yet, into subscribing to our newsletter Xtra Weekly, where you’ll find the full director’s cut version.

What’s the buzz 🐝?

The Chinese government’s ongoing clampdown on LGBTQ+ internet platforms may not have the dramatic flare of Russia’s 2013 law against “homosexual propoganda” or Hungary’s recent ban on LGBTQ+ content in schools. Digital censorship just doesn’t ring the same alarm bells as banning books or raiding bathhouses, despite the fact that online platforms are often the first place where modern queer people share their wonderings and desires about sexual orientation and gender identity. Blocking queer people from connecting on the internet takes away their ability to fully be themselves and to make connections offline. We exist in our relationships to others; it’s not good enough to merely be considered “not sick” or “not criminal.” This suppression of queer conversations sadly seems to be a backing away from the promise of China’s 1997 decriminalization of homosexuality

And the number of Chinese LGBTQ+ people affected by these reversals, in a country with a population of almost 1.4 billion, is staggering. I know that putting a number on what percentage of the population is LGBTQ+ is a futile and usually unhelpful endeavour, but, if you’ll indulge for a moment, and let me assign a modest five percent figure—that’s around 70 million people who are directly affected.

What were we thinking 🇺🇳?

In a recent conversation with several very smart LGBTQ2S+ people, I casually suggested that over the last couple of decades, things have been getting better for queer people around the world. My cohorts weren’t having it. In particular, they pointed out the tremendous inequalities in rights, social acceptance and societal support depending on a person’s background. Sure, things have become pretty good for, say, white gay men living in rich Western countries, but what about people of colour, the queer women, the trans and non-binary people in those countries? What about people in countries that continue to demonize LGBTQ2S+ people?

 

I concede all these points, totally and completely. Those privileged homos with their rainbow-festooned house in San Francisco or London or Paris live in an entirely different world than, say, a young trans person living in a remote redneck town or a lesbian living in a village in Uganda.

But there is a difference between “better” and “best,” between “improving” and “made it,” between “many” and “everybody.” There’s a tension between the sayings, “Perfect is the enemy of good,” and “No one is free when others are oppressed.”

You can’t pretend there’s been no progress. When I think back to my days studying Canadian literature in the 1980s, there were only a small number of texts by Indigenous writers, of any identity or orientation, available for the curriculum, though my very conscientious prof made sure that one of them, Tomson Highway, was queer. (Highway’s pioneering work certainly changed my life.) Nowadays, off the top of my head, I can think of a half dozen published and acclaimed Indigenous writers—specifically, queer, trans and Two-Spirit Indigenous writers. Do they have to struggle more to get the acclaim of their settler peers? Most definitely. But that struggle isn’t what it would have been in the 1980s. Easier, not easy. To fail to acknowledge these successes, and not listen to the new voices we’re hearing out of these successes, seems to me particularly perverse.

Looking at Latin America, attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people have broadly improved in the last couple of decades, and the three most populous countries in South America have legalized same-sex marriage. But improvements have been wildly inconsistent; middle- and upper-class Mexican families may make less drama about having an LGBTQ+ offspring, but queer and trans people still suffer a disproportionate amount of violence. Brazil’s recent government has been unapologetically homophobic.

In 2018, India’s Supreme court struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex illegal. You can’t look at a ruling that turns, say, 68 million people from criminals into law-abiding citizens and not acknowledge that their lives are at least somewhat better. But Indian society still makes it difficult to be out; the country, like all countries, has many promises yet to fulfill.

When LGBTQ2S+ peers in more dire situations than our own are trod upon, we owe them our attention and, if possible, our financial support. We have to be witnesses to the problems they face and do what we can to help solve them. We must also celebrate the successes of others and learn from them.

In many cases, increased persecution of queer and trans people around the world is often a reaction against our successes, which I think is what’s happening in China. But I have faith that queer and trans people globally have the capacity to keep improving their own lives, and improving our lot collectively.

In other Xtra news 🌎

👉In the fifth installment of “Protest and Pleasure,” Xtra contributor Chanelle Gallant speaks with activists Barbara Smith and Ash-Lee Henderson about why relying on marriage equality isn’t the key to liberation.

👉Attending a queer-oriented Shabbat helped Emily Zinkin feel closer to both her bisexuality and her Jewish heritage. Read her reflection in the latest entry to our “My Safe Space” series.

👉Even with two vaccine doses, it’s still important to remember safety when hooking up this hot vax summer. Contributor Bobby Box looks at safer sex in a post-pandemic world that’s still wildly in flux.

👉Without a stage for the past year and a half, many queer and trans comedians have taken to TikTok. Xtra’s Mel Woods looks at some of the comics that have us LOLing on the social media platform.

👉Author and OB/GYN Dr. Jen Gunter provides answers and dispels myths about menopause and how it can affect mental health, sex and more in our latest “Ask an Expert” video!

👉Want more headlines? Subscribe to Xtra Weekly.

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A little bit of wishful thinking:

Paul Gallant

Paul Gallant is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has appeared in The WalrusThe Globe and Mail, the Toronto StarTHIS magazine, CBC.ca, Readersdigest.ca and many other publications. His debut novel, Still More Stubborn Stars, was published by Acorn Press. He is the editor of Pink Ticket Travel and a former managing editor of Xtra. Photo by Tishan Baldeo.

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