Smile for the gay

14:16, September 13, 2010      

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What started off as a low-key message urging straight people to register their support for the over 50 million LGBT people in China, had soon snowballed into a nationwide campaign. Xu Lin met Hou Haiyang, who set the ball rolling.

On a sweltering day in June, a bunch of young people was handing out leaflets to passers-by. They wore badges with the Chinese characters “Tongzhi Nihao” and a smiling face printed against a rainbow background, symbolizing gay pride.

Tongzhi Nihao, which literally means, “Hello, gay people,” is a nationwide call to straight people to greet homosexuals. Tongzhi, the buzzword that used to mean “comrade”, now has taken on a new connotation, referring to homosexuals.

A 30-year-old working as a bike park guard was at a loss till the volunteers carefully explained the activity to him. Straight people like him were urged to write a line of greeting for homosexuals on the whiteboard and take a photo with the big smile motif.
“I am willing to do it but I am illiterate,” the man said.

In the end, he traced over the four Chinese characters on the board and smiled happily for the camera.

His participation marked one of 4,409. Over 200 messages went on display at Beijing LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals) Center, till end August.

The initiator of this program is Hou Haiyang, a 23-year-old graduate from Northeast Normal University.

“I wanted to collect 1,000 smiles from heterosexuals for homosexual people, especially for those in need,” says Hou, born and raised in Changchun, capital of Jilin province. “I hope society could be more tolerant towards lesbians and gays and that they could bravely face their sexual orientation, life and society.”

Hou drew inspiration from the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), celebrated in more than 50 countries each year on May 17. IDAHO fights homophobia as a shameful phenomenon.

On the night of May 19, Hou updated his status on renren.com, a well-known social networking site (SNS) among college students in China, inviting Netizens to join Smile For Gay, urging heterosexuals to come out in support of over 50 million LGBT people in China.

To his surprise, around 50 young people responded to his call the same night. Greatly encouraged by this, he posted the message on other popular sites, such as douban.com, sina.com, kaixin001.com and Sina Microblog, the next day.

“There were so many Netizens supporting Smile for Gay that I could not handle this on my own,” he recalls.

A total of 698 volunteers joined the effort.

Certain NGOs from home and abroad offered their partnership and support. Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong and Taiwan Adolescent Association on Sexualities brought Smile for Gay to facebook.com, one of the world’s top SNS portals.

Many Netizens, including Taiwan-based gay TV host Cai Kangyong, supported the campaign on Sina’s microblog. Celebrity hostess Ke Lan posted her smiling picture with the words: “We share the same happiness.”

Smile for Gay now has more than 3,000 followers on Sina Microblog.

Over a 100 smiles from heterosexuals were collected in just four days. The target of 1,000 smiles was reached by June 2. All the photos were simultaneously uploaded on various SNSs.

“The 1000th picture is that of a smiling baby, signifying a fresh start of our activity,” Hou says.

On the same night, he revealed his identity as a college student on the Internet, dismissing suspicions that the show might be a hoax.

“As Smile for Gay had a good start, other volunteers suggested we did offline events at the same time, ” Hou says.

They found a sponsor in Aibai.com, a comprehensive LGBT website in terms of news, culture, education and laws. Beijing Tongyu, a non-governmental organization supporting lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, offered propaganda material such as leaflets and brochures.

Volunteers from different cities are divided into groups and given a team leader to organize the offline events. Hou is the coordinator.

“We mailed the brochures and badges to different cities,” he says. “Local volunteers would use these to introduce our activity and circulate some basic knowledge about homosexuality among people on the street.”

“Young people, especially girls, are more supportive,” Hou says. “Heterosexual couples are more willing to be photographed together to prevent their being mistaken as gays. But we encourage volunteers to persuade those who may have stereotyped responses towards gay people, such as the aged and religious people.”

Several old people did offer their best wishes. An old man finally accepted the idea that homosexuality is just as common as being left-handed, after a young volunteer reasoned with him for over 20 minutes. In a park, a retired elderly gentleman wrote, “Tongzhi, go for it,” on the ground using a huge brush after learning the word’s new meaning.

“Nobody dared support the LGBT so openly 10 years ago,” he said. “China is becoming increasingly open towards homosexuality. I want to continue the Smile for Gay campaign.”

Numbers:
42 days Of unprecedented success seen by Smile for Gay.

22 nationalities participated in the activity.

205 cities were involved.

698 volunteers ,mostly heterosexuals, devote themselves to online and offline
activities.

4409 smiles and greetings for homosexuals were collected in total from straight people.

By Xu Lin Source: China Daily

(Editor:叶欣)

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