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Beijing’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Nearly 20 years since the law was enacted, debate in the United States is ramping up over an anticipated repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the Clinton-era compromise that allows gays to serve in the U.S. military as long as they keep quiet about their sexual orientation. But did you know that China has its ...

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 20 years since the law was enacted, debate in the United States is ramping up over an anticipated repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the Clinton-era compromise that allows gays to serve in the U.S. military as long as they keep quiet about their sexual orientation. But did you know that China has its own version of the policy?

It’s called the "Three No’s": no support, no prohibition, and no promotion. Unlike Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the jurisdiction of the Three No’s policy isn’t limited to the military. In fact, it drives Chinese decisions about gay rights in all realms of life — at least, most of the time. China actively opposed granting UN recognition to a U.S.-based gay rights group in a controversial vote in the U.N. Economic and Social Council last week, prompting Shanghaiist to wonder why Beijing didn’t simply abstain, as five other countries did, if Three No’s actually means anything.

To be fair, the last ten years have seen a gradual flourishing of the gay community in China. The country decriminalized homosexuality in 1997; four years later, the Chinese Psychiatric Association stopped regarding it as a disease. And whatever the government’s official stance, the public’s attitude toward gays is becoming decidedly more open:

“You’ve got 50 and 60-year-old men coming out, young teenagers coming out, everyone coming out,” says Kenneth Tan, a native Singaporean who has been living in Shanghai for the past seven years. “There is a lot of energy in the scene right now because all these people are coming out for the first time in their life, in the life of the community and the history of modern China. There is a great sense of freshness to the scene.”

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