Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Beijing Lesbian Center

Beijing Chauyang District
Beijing Lesbian Center

Location: Beijing City Chaoyang district Sihui East Heng Shidai Building No. 3, 28th floor, Apartment no. 8

Opened/Closed: c. 2012

Perhaps the best description of the Beijing Lesbian Center is from a 2012 article at City Weekend. Notice that despite the name, the Beijing Lesbian Center wasn't exclusively lesbian at all, which is pretty typical of the confusing, co-opted times we live in. (How ironic that the gay men and/or trans people take over the women's restrooms in gay bars, so women can't use them. And then women can't even keep a "Lesbian Center" women-only.)

Here it is reported that the Beijing Lesbian Center is now closed.

La La Love: Hanging out at Beijing's Lesbian Center

    “This is gay night, are you gay” This comes from inside a stall at [Alfa) where men have taken over the ladies’ washroom and are refusing to give up the space to women who need to use the facilities. Instead, they partner up in the stalls, shouting at the women that “only gay people” should be at Alfa on a Friday. The bar is teeming with Chinese men and a few expat boys, while a small group of girls huddle together on the second floor in the smoky haze. Sometimes it seems the gay scene in Beijing is really just for men. But is it? Language barriers and financial struggles make the growth of lesbian life in Beijing slower than volunteers and staff members at Beijing’s many gay groups and organizations would like, but a closer look reveals a vibrant community.

Beijing's Vibrant Lesbian Scene

At the Lesbian Center in Sihui—formerly known as Lala Salon—is volunteer Carina Rother. While it mainly serves as a hang out place for lesbians, what is most amazing about it, Rother says, is its diversity, with monthly meetings for transgender persons, middle-aged lesbians, and a night for lesbian mothers and mothers of lesbian daughters. “The program is quickly evolving,” she says. “There are new volunteers, ideas and interest groups every week.”
Carina Rother
While there are still many challenges to the future of the center and the community it serves, “the worst problem is definitely the money,” she says. The center’s five board members pay the rent themselves, with some help from the ¥25 fee for activities. But financial burden makes an uncertain future. Networking is another problem. The center lacks foreign NGO contacts, and because they use Weibo and QQ, it’s difficult for non-Chinese speakers to find them. Language issues also present difficulties for expat women looking to join local lesbian culture. Tongyu, a lesbian group whose name translates as “common language,” put on a well-attended play in Beijing last month, but, as the performance was in Chinese, foreign faces in the audience were few. Tongyu is involved in a variety of activities, but most are solidly aimed at the Chinese-speaking set, such as co-hosted Saturday afternoon salon for Chinese-speaking lesbians at J Bar, with a discussion or lecture. Tongyu also runs a hotline (132-4038-4246) and teams with [Aibai] to provide legal and health information to the queer community and to increase support for gay rights among the general public. English-speakers can find support through [BGLAD] (Beijing Gay, Lesbian and Allies Discussion), a Yahoo group.

Bringing Expats and Locals Together

Messages for Meeting Up
In a quest to bring foreign and Chinese lalas together, a volunteer at the LGBT Center says they, in collaboration with the Lesbian Center, are planning an “international la la meeting” in the near future. She points out that on BGLAD, she will tag it as a “party” so people actually go. A number of lesbian-oriented groups have moved to the same building as the LGBT Center in Liufang, she says, and she believes it is a good idea to “pool resources, and, more importantly, to build a real physical sense of ‘community.’” Though there is a stereotype that lesbians are quick to settle down after meeting a new love, leading to a lack of a party crowd to support regular lesbian nights around the city, this isn’t necessarily the case, says Stephen Leonelli, program manager at the Beijing [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Center. Chinese lesbian magazine Les Plus’s occasional fundraising events are a place for la las to let loose, he says. “And those girls really know how to party.”

Love, Marriage and a Supportive Community

The community also often gathers for non-party events, such as trips just for girls up to 798 or potluck dinners. Those interested in stepping out of the party scene to meet up can check out. While being gay in China is still not as socially accepted as it could be, those involved with the capital’s gay and lesbian centers say they don’t experience any organized or blatant opposition, an atmosphere that allows women to come to Beijing and feel free to be themselves. With several groups in operation and the drive to create a larger and stronger community, volunteers and members are optimistic about the future of Beijing’s la la scene.

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