On stage, with blown-up photos of drag queens and DJs in the background, the partygoers took turns to scan a QR code, then knock back shots and pose for pictures, all while proudly holding up a sign reading ‘I’ve just donated to LGBT charities!’
It seemed like a fitting way to kick off what organizers had promised to be a ‘better and more fabulous’ Pride weekend in Shenzhen this past July.
The lineup of events featured a repeat of 2016’s inaugural Pride pool party, an opening night mixer that combined fundraising with a lip-syncing contest and a night at the club, with appearances by go-go dancers, models and drag queens sprinkled throughout.
Organizers pose with drag queen Gigi Giubilee
Drag queen XXXotica performed and posed at the opening party
Its overall success highlighted not only positive growth in Shenzhen, but in mainland China as well: the first-ever Pride celebration in the region, a weeklong fest of LGBTQ-friendly events in Shanghai, took place less than a decade ago, in 2009. It was also, despite the name, relatively humble.
As a Newsweek article at the time reported, ‘the government didn't have to rain on Shanghai's gay parade because there was no parade.’
Events were restrained rather than raucous – the roster included film screenings, exhibitions and an academic debate – and were hosted in private venues. But even then, some were canceled ‘because government authorities intervened,’ as a China Daily writer put it.
Fast forward eight years and while LGBTQ rights haven’t made noticeable progress in the mainland (does a trans man winning a workplace bias lawsuit cancel out a ban on homosexual-related content online?), Shanghai Pride is nevertheless an establishment, with a total of 34 events held over four months this past year.
That may be the dream of Pride organizers in Shenzhen but for now, they’re focusing on smaller goals.
Not getting their events canceled, for instance.
In the weeks before the local edition of Pride kicked off, organizers were wary. This past June, Guangzhou’s PRiDe group had had to cancel a major party and family-oriented BBQ at the last minute.
In response the SZUMMER Pride group was “extra careful,” releasing venue locations only to those who purchased tickets and being selective with their advertisement.
In hindsight, organizer Alex McCutcheon said, there was “never a question of shutdown” as the team had feared. Police didn’t accost attendees or organizers, and the only complaint came from neighbors who found a DJ too loud.
As a result, Pride weekend enjoyed healthy attendance at three main events. A typhoon brought an end to the fourth, a free outdoor picnic, but organizers rallied a small group to take a “quick stroll” of Pride around the Coco Park shopping mall instead, followed by an impromptu group dance.
This year's Pride pool party
The flash mob crew
Another seemingly small but significant victory: through a cut of ticket sales and donations, Pride raised over RMB3,400 for two Chinese nonprofits.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) China hold workshops to help overcome prejudice and increase awareness of LGBTQ issues, while Zhitong promote safe sex practices and even gave out free condoms over the weekend.
SZUMMER Pride organizers, with support from Guangzhou’s PRiDe group – in a symbolic gesture, the two share a set of rainbow flags and other items – plan to continue making “the city a bit more fun” with a greater variety of events next year.
Will they be scaling up the size of the fest as well? According to McCutcheon, the group “[sees] no reason” why not.
[Images via SZUMMER Pride]