“We are waiting for you. Where are you?”
In October last year, I saw that headline on my roommate's WeChat feed. It was from a group named NZ Chinese Rainbow Alliance 华人彩虹联盟 who were seeking photo submissions from the public. "We sincerely invite friends from the LGBT community to share a selfie with us… Through these real faces we hope to tell more people like us that you are not alone." All of these photos were in black and white, with a few wearing big black shades.
And then I thought: since when did Chinese New Zealanders have a Rainbow Alliance? I asked my roommate where he got this from, and he shared Lois Hong's WeChat ID with me.
A month later, I met her at a cafe. Lois looked amazing. Her dreads were slightly pressed by her hat, and a row of tattoos extended from her throat into her collar. Her life, so far, has been amazing too.
Born in Nanjing, China, she grew up in Germany. Her education traces from China to Auckland to Freiburg. At the age of 19, she started her own business. The company, after a few ups and downs, is now stable. So she quit management and started learning photography from scratch. She’s doing what she loves.
And part of that is NZ Chinese Rainbow Alliance 华人彩虹联盟. I sat down with Lois to find out all about the Rainbow Alliance, and the unique challenges the Chinese queer community faces, both here in Aotearoa and in their homeland.
VICE: How did the NZ Chinese Rainbow Alliance 华人彩虹联盟 start?
Lois Hong: There was no lesbian circle around me before but I met a lot of lesbian friends. I built a small WeChat group after meeting them. It was originally called "Rainbow Choir", which was the prototype of the alliance.
The reason for the group was that these lesbians were already in a stable relationships. Some have got married here, and some even started thinking about having babies. But no one has much experience—like if we want a baby it’s a rather complicated process.
There isn’t much information at all, and we don't know what to do. We can only search online, or go to the hospital to ask for more information. So we started building a group to discuss all things LGBT. We grew from an online group of about 30 people to a website and a WeChat page. The total number of registered users is now about 200.
What do you guys usually do as an alliance?
We basically organise activities every week: basketball, badminton, table tennis, barbecue, karaoke… All the activities are listed on our website. Everyone can see and everyone can register to attend. There have been two marriage proposals in the past, and one couple has already gotten married.
And the public call-out you saw for everyone to upload a selfie, it continues. As long as someone uploads one, we will publish them on the website.
What are your plans for the group?
The next step is that I want to officially register as a non-profit organisation in New Zealand. Shoot some promos, and eventually a documentary. We are going to give a few public talks, too. We look forward to working with the local LGBT community and some other not-for-profits.
Of course, I want more people to know that our community exists. We can offer help. The scope of help can be broad: coming out, how to deal with the relationships with family members after coming out, getting married in New Zealand and what to do you if you want kids, and much more.
You're going to make documentary as well as a promo? Nice one.
In fact, I already have a video team. I’ve basically storyboarded a short film. The theme I want to express is that we have such a large Chinese LGBT group in NZ, but many of them can’t admit themselves as LGBT openly—maybe it’s because of family reasons or social pressure, whatever. But also there are people like me who have come out, and we want to speak for ourselves. I hope we can offer more strength and support to those who have not come out.
To come out to Chinese parents, it must take a tremendous amount of courage…
I came out almost 10 years ago. My parents probably took about two years to accept the fact that I’m gay. But I was like, I need to tell you, whether you accept or not is your own business.
How long did it take you to come out?
About one year before I came out, I realised that I was probably a lesbian. It felt like an epiphany. It’s maybe because my family is more traditional and the society lacks this kind of education. In the past, I didn't even know the notion of being "gay". I systematically thought that women should be with men.
"My family is more traditional and the society lacks this kind of education. In the past, I didn't even know the notion of being "gay".
Until university. I met another lesbian at the age of 20 in New Zealand. I really discovered myself because of her. It took me a year to completely confirm my sexual orientation—I reviewed my past 20 years to understand why I didn’t have feelings for men. I was like… that’s why!
One night I sat down with my parents to talk about it seriously. I had a girlfriend at that time and I wanted to have a future with her. I thought it was about time to let them know.
How did they react?
My mum didn’t cry but she had a mental breakdown! Because she never thought I’d be into girls. She imagined I’d marry a man one day and have babies. Our relationship became pretty intense. I was working in my hometown and I was living by myself. I only went home once a month to have a meal with them because they couldn’t handle it.
Did they accept it eventually?
Yes. In my opinion, 99 percent of the parents in the world want their children to be happy. Is it more important for your daughter to marry a man who she doesn’t love, or is it more important for your daughter to be happy? Of course, happiness is important. I always say this to my lesbian friends who haven’t come out. Although they might not be able to realise it at this point.
But the pressure from parents can be huge…
Yes, I have seen a documentary before, probably from the United States. It showed that these parents may accept the children themselves, but that they may also face judgement from their friends or families. They might be embarrassed too.
"I often use myself as an example to tell them that coming out doesn’t mean the sky is falling."
I’m probably quite blunt in this case, but those who struggle to come out might be considering the feelings of their parents. Therefore I often use myself as an example to tell them that coming out doesn’t mean the sky is falling. The relationship with your parents can actually be strengthened once you get through the obstacles together.
For example, my girlfriend, who I have been with for five years. For a long time, she didn’t come out. Neither her parents nor her friends knew. That was quite challenging because I wanted us to be together, openly and freely. But she cared too much about everyone else’s opinion. But after going through the underground phase in our relationship, she started to change slowly. In our third year together she came out to her parents.
There was a massive censorship going on previously in China. A lot of the LGBT accounts were shut. Does that impact you at all?
I didn't pay much attention to this before. However, I know that there are still gay communities in the country and they are doing very well, such as Shanghai's Qmmunity.
I also went to New York and found that there are also a large Chinese LGBT group in North America. There are thousands of people in the organisation, and have even developed to the extent to have their own internal election. I also met with a similar organisation in Australia.
In general, the society is always improving. The degree of tolerance is definitely greater than the past. Of course, discrimination still exists. For example, I have a couple of lesbian friends here who were refused a room to rent after the Chinese landlord found out they're gay.
Have you seen the effects of your group?
After I built this group of alliances, I have found that most of my friends who haven't come out yet, they have begun to open up about themselves in the last six months.
You can find the NZ Chinese Rainbow Alliance 华人彩虹联盟 here.