It’s not hard to find a gay bar or openly gay men in downtown Beijing.
China has a thriving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community that is supported by such innovative tools as a location-based gay social networking app.
But in the workplace, most of China’s LGBT individuals opt to remain in the closet in spite of a decade of improved social acceptance.
Last Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia, the NGO Aibai Culture and Education Center released a new report about the employment world of LGBT Chinese. The report was based on a survey conducted between January and April on the Chinese mainland that had 2,161 responses.
According to the report, 47.6 percent of Chinese gays and lesbians keep their sexuality a secret in the workplace, and only 6.3 percent are open. The rest revealed their sexual orientation only to trusted colleagues.
More than half reported hearing offensive words aimed at LGBT people, and 32.4 percent reported witnessing or experiencing a personal attack based on a person’s sexual orientation at the workplace.
More than a fifth had left a job due to a work environment that was hostile to their sexuality.
The report also showed that LGBT workers at state-owned enterprises faced more pressure, and that people with higher education are less likely to come out for fear of how their sexual orientation could affect career advancement.
Gay employees were less likely to come out than lesbians, and bisexuals were the least likely to come out.
City size had limited effect on a person’s ultimate choice of whether or not to come out: urban residents were more likely to consider career advancement, while those in small towns are more worried about conservative family members.
The survey was the first to examine the situation of Chinese LGBT employees. It was released at the Beijing American Center and supported by the American embassy, LesTalk, Feizan.com, PFLAG China and SynTao.
M. Hanscom Smith, minister counselor of Economic Affairs, attended the report release. He said he felt respected in China as a gay.
“When people ask me, for example, are you married, I will say no, I’m not, I have a partner. Some older people will be quiet but young people are more open and accepting,” he said. “I have not faced many awkward situations or discrimination, though it may be because of my position and because I’m a foreigner,” he said.
Zhou Haibin, national project coordinator of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said discriminating against LGBT people goes against international law.
“LGBT individuals should have equal access to education, work and occupation placement services, the right to join in organizations for workers and employers, promotions, collective bargaining, equal pay for equal work, employment security, welfare facilities and allowance, occupation safety and health, work hours and holidays,” Zhou said.
ILO’s director-general, Guy Ryder, said ILO is stepping up efforts to eradicate workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity on May 17 at Geneva, Switzerland.
Reports show that enterprises that do not provide a friendly and tolerant environment for their LGBT employees could be damaging their employees’ efficiency. Productivity has been shown to fall by as much as 30 percent when workers are in the closet.
Business entities that support sexual minorities and protect their rights benefit from their LGBT employees’ performance and company loyalty.
“I think the advertising industry attaches importance to personality and the ideas. It should popularize the concepts of diversity and equality,” said Gogo, a lesbian open about her sexual orientation at work. “Retaining designers is a problem for many companies. If the company’s culture supports LGBT people and promotes equality, it will be more likely to give employees a sense of belonging.”
Nationwide reports such as the Corporate Equality Index, started by Human Rights Campaign in US in 2001, and Workplace Equality Index, launched by Stonewall Equality in the UK in 2005, have become important references and effective catalysts in advocating diversity and improving workplace equality.
Every company on Fortune Magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” includes sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, and more than half of these companies also include language on gender identity.
In the US, more than 80 percent of the enterprises have policies that clearly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in staff recruitment, workplace and commercial activities. Many multinational enterprises in the US, including IBM, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Boeing, Coca Cola and Disney, provide benefits to LGBT employees and their partners.