This year marks the 15th anniversary of the removal of homosexuality as a listed mental illness in China. And whilst there is still much to do to ensure equality for LGBT people in China, it is also worth looking back to see just how far we have come in a short space of time. When I look back on the past decade and a half that I have spent promoting LGBT issues in China, I see that so much has changed for the better. Fifteen years ago, I could have never imagined that I would be one of the British Councils 33 Global LGBT Influencers (For more information go to www.britishcouncil.org). Being regarded as one today, however, makes me incredibly thankful.
Before launching Blued, I was a police officer in the coastal city of Qin Huangdao, in the northern Hebei Province. In my spare time I also worked on the LGBT website www.danlan.org which I had started in 2001. But then, in 2012, mobile internet started to challenge and displace traditional internet as smartphones became prominent and I saw my chance. I thought this was an unprecedented opportunity to create a private mobile network where gay people could meet others around them by taking advantage of the GPS feature in smartphones. At that time, homosexuals in China were ignored by the main stream media, misunderstood by society and often struggled alone. Using technology in this way was how I could help gay people build their own community. So in 2012 I resigned from the police force and launched Blued. I wanted to give gay people a voice and a place to connect and meet each other.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997 and was finally removed from the Ministry of Health's list of mental illnesses in 2001. Since 1997 the attitude of Chinese society toward homosexuality has changed tremendously, and for the better I'm glad to see. There has far more main stream media coverage of LGBT groups, and most of it positive. Thanks to the internet it is also much easier today for young people to access information on LGBT issues, so they don't feel as isolated as young gay people did when I was younger.
I think LGBT issues are better understood by Chinese people now and homosexuality is also becoming more accepted in larger and economically developed Chinese cities. However, ignorance, misunderstanding, and prejudice still exist in China so despite our great strides forward with regards to acceptance, we still have a lot of work to do before we can build enough support to get legal protection as well. The biggest legal right of course is the right to marry. Gay marriage has had a lot of global coverage in the past decade as more countries are voting for legislation changes which enshrine equality in marriage. In 2015, Blued flew seven gay couples to the USA to get married to highlight the issue. It became one of the biggest social media stories of 2015. This marked a huge advancement for LGBT awareness in China, True equality is on the horizon, but it will take time for China as a whole to move towards it as reality.
Looking to the future, I hope there will be more education on sexuality and homosexuality in schools. I also hope that LGBT groups can be accepted by society and no longer feel the need to stay anonymous and hidden. I firmly believe that they, like everyone else, have the right to love anyone they choose. I hope to get more people in China to understand LGBT issues and the importance of diversity and inclusiveness through business and social programs. Today, Blued has the largest registered user base than any other gay social app in the world. Its success would not have been possible if not for the advances in Chinese society in accepting LGBT people, and the support of many friends in the technology sector. In the future, I hope that the entire world would see the hard-work and commitment the LGBT communities are putting in to build a "Rainbow Economy". In return, I hope that we all will also see a more dynamic, accepting and embracing China.