Gay subway proposal an Internet hit in China

Attitudes towards gay rights are gradually shifting in China. Two decades ago, gay couples could face arrest under sodomy laws.

Story highlights

  • Video of marriage proposal between two men goes viral in China
  • Attitudes towards gay rights are gradually shifting but same-sex marriage is not legally recognized

Beijing (CNN)The Beijing subway system might not sound like the most romantic place to pop the question, but it worked its charm for one gay couple in China.

In a video shot on a mobile phone, a man is seen kneeling on the floor of a crowded subway car.
    "I want everyone I know or I don't know to witness this," he says to his partner. "I will be loving you for the rest of my life."
    A supportive crowd cheers them on, shouting "be together," "say yes," and "kiss him."
    The video of this very public proposal has gone viral on Chinese social media and unleashed a wave of online support for gay marriage, which is not legal in China.
    The post has been shared more than 10,000 times on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, and greeted enthusiastically by Internet users, who have added thousands of positive comments.
    "This type of love really needs courage, bless you!" posted one Chinese web user. Another wrote: "You can't ask for respect from everyone on gay/lesbian love, what I can do is not discriminate."

    Attitudes shift

    Attitudes towards gay rights are gradually shifting in China.
    Two decades ago, gay couples could face arrest under sodomy laws or be classified as mentally ill.
    It was only in 1997 that homosexuality was decriminalized. And it took the Chinese government another four years to stop classifying it as a mental illness.
    Now there is increasing acceptance, especially among young city dwellers, though some discrimination and prejudices remain.
    Xin Ying, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Center, said many in the LGBT community welcome the video because it is raising the awareness about LGBT people's need for relations and marriages.
    However, she said the changing attitudes towards LGBT groups is slow. Although she believes the majority of the urban youth accept the concept of LGBT, the majority of Chinese people don't.
    Before 1997, homosexuality had been considered a "hooligan crime" in China. Many still hold up this prejudice today, according to Xin.
    Xin said the biggest challenges facing LGBT individuals often comes from their own families.
    "To begin with, Chinese parents have very little sex education," she said. "Also, sex has long been a taboo topic in Chinese society, not to mention gender identity."
    Marriage is a particularly difficult issue.
    Young people still face social and family pressure to marry in their early twenties, something that is not available to LGBT couples.
    In June, Internet giant Alibaba and gay dating app Blued sent seven gay couples to Los Angeles to get married, but the unions are not recognized in China.
    But Xin says legalized marriage isn't at the top of the agenda for Chinese LGBT couples,.
    "Pursing gay marriage is an important topic worldwide, because the right to marry is a fundamental right of every single citizen. But it shouldn't be the ultimate goal—not everyone needs it. "
    Compared to marriage, combating social, education and employment discrimination against gay couples is a bigger battle, she added.