China isn't exactly known worldwide as a proponent of gay rights. However it's not clear to me why they're against such "sexual deviations" if they don't have any religious base to support the ban. Which part of their ideology goes against it?
Historically, homosexuality was widely accepted in China. With a lack of any strongly moralistic religion, the general atmosphere was incomparable to the persecution of much of the rest of the world. Cross-gender behaviour was also widely accepted, particularly in the traditional operatic arts.
It wasn't until around 1740, when the first anti-gay statute was created by the Qing Dynasty, that things started to change. The Qing Dynasty was controlled by people from the northern Manchu ethnic group, at the time culturally very different to the Han peoples who formed the bulk of "China proper".
When the West began its aggressive adventurism into China in the 19th century, missionaries began spreading Western ideologies with considerable success. In the early 20th century, the Republic of China that immediately followed the Qing dynasty, were also quite beholden to Western influences.
However it was the communists, under Mao, that truly began to erase the acceptance of minority sexual preferences. During the Cultural Revolution, homosexuals were regarded as "disgraceful" and "undesirable", and heavily persecuted. This seems to be a common feature of communist political systems.
While never recovering to the level of acceptance of some of the historical dynasties, tolerance for homosexuality and freedom-of-expression did improve gradually under the successive communist administrations that followed Deng Xiaoping, up until around 2014. China decriminalised homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from a list of mental disorders in 2001.
The Shanghai Pride festival happened every year between 2009 and 2019, but, in 2020 it was announced that the festival would be suspended indefinitely. This corresponded with a strict clampdown on all forms of popularizing "non-acceptable" behavior (including LGBT, Western cultural influences, pornography, alternative political ideologies, etc.) that has dramatically increased in intensity over the last five years. LGBT content is not completely banned on social media, but there have been periods of censorship (for example on Weibo which led to a severe backlash from the community).
While we can only speculate as to the true reasons behind this, there appear to be two main theories:
- The One Child Policy has left China with a low birth rate, that the current government is trying increasingly desperately to correct (with a specific focus on growth of the Han ethnic groups). However, this clearly isn't the complete story, since it is unlikely that discouraging homosexuality will help much to correct the demographic balance.
- The more convincing reason is that it is all part of the process of national(istic) rejuvenation that falls under the amorphous banner of the Chinese Dream. Mirroring the first Cultural Revolution, there is a now a strong drive for cultural purity, essentially an idealized version of Xi Jinping's own gilded childhood.
It is worth adding that the Chinese have very few hang-ups about sex in general. Sex toys and condoms can be found prominently placed in many convenience stores. This latest turn against LGBT is primarily a consequence of the drive towards cultural purity (which in turn serves the goals the C.C.P.), rather than being moralistic in origin.
TL;DR: In 2019, a Chinese officially opposed same-sex marriage on the grounds of history, culture, and tradition; Internet regulations suggest LGBT websites are perverted and pornographic by nature. The situation for transgender people (the T in LGBT) is quite distinct from LGB, and is treated more like a medical condition: the rigid path to legal gender recognition in China (requiring surgery) suits some but not all transgender people, and there seems to be inaction on improving these laws.
In 2019, the topic of legalizing same-sex marriage was raised in China. An official response was:
[Google Translate:] The monogamy stipulated in my country's current marriage law is a marriage system based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This stipulation is in line with my country's national conditions and historical and cultural traditions. As far as I know, most countries in the world do not recognize the legality of same-sex marriage. Therefore, the draft marriage and family of the Civil Code also maintains the monogamy stipulated in the current marriage law.
法工委发言人：一夫一妻制符合我国国情和历史文化传统, BJNews, August 2019 (also see the Google Translate version).
The spokesperson cites 一夫一妻制 (one husband one wife system), and the concept dates back to 1950:
[Google Translate:] Abolish the feudalistic marriage system that arranges coercion, men are superior to women, and ignores the interests of children. Implement a new democratic marriage system featuring freedom of marriage for men and women, monogamy, equal rights for men and women, and protection of the legitimate rights and interests of women and children.
中华人民共和国婚姻法 (1950年) (People's Republic of China Marriage Law), 1950
Here 一夫一妻 is translated as "monogamy", as opposed to 一夫多妻 (one husband multiple wives, or polygyny). The 一夫一妻 concept also appears in the 1980 update.
[The topic was also added to the 2020 National People's Congress's agenda (NBC News (English); iFeng (Chinese)), and the response mostly referred back to the aforementioned response (See 回应全国人大常委会法工委民法室主任黄薇, May 2020. The original was published in The Paper but is no longer available.)]
In current China, homosexuality is censored in film in China (see e.g. Variety Fair, June 2020), and (partially censored) homosexual content is available in videos and via the Internet: Weibo [like Twitter] (screenshot); 抖音 = TikTok (screenshot); JingDong (screenshot); Sina News (screenshot); Baidu (screenshot); Microsoft's Bing (screenshot). It's not a complete blackout, but censorship is noticeable here. (Also note that a lot of non-LGBT Internet sites are also blocked here in China, e.g. Google, Facebook, Twitter.)
Outright International (section 33.) reports that LGBT websites are unstable due to Internet pornography restrictions:
[Google Translate:] Obscenely describe homosexual sexual behaviors or other sexual perversions, as well as specific descriptions of violence, abuse, and insults related to sexual perversions;
So the above two items likely reflect the main reasons for LGB opposition: (a) history, culture, and tradition, and (b) linking homosexuality with perversions.
I also note a 2019-2020 survey of Chinese university students indicate a growing number of people identifying as LGBT.
这届大学生，性态度很开放，性知识很缺乏, 2020; Chinese terms: 异性恋 = straight; 双性恋 = bisexual; 同性恋 = homosexual; 泛性恋 = pansexual; 无性恋 = asexual; 其他 = other; 不确定 = uncertain
These numbers are strikingly different than the same survey four years earlier (89.5% straight in 2016, and 77.28% straight in 2020). This was reported in Chinese news (e.g. Sina) and social media. Together with iFeng's Internet survey of support for same-sex marriage (67% support and 30% opposition), it's signalling large changes in Chinese attitudes in recent years.
The problems faced by the T (transgender) subpopulation is a rather distinct matter.
Surgery is required to modify one's gender marker on one's 身份证 (Chinese ID card); the procedure is stipulated here (Chinese). This makes it a fairly rigid system, and does not suit everyone (e.g. who might not want or be able to get surgery, or might have a non-binary gender identity). However, some people who are happy to have surgery report a positive experience transitioning in China, e.g.:
"But I didn't suffer a lot. When I asked my boss for leave telling him I was going to have the surgery, he gave me permission immediately. And my colleagues were all supportive. They asked me to tell them how I was feeling afterwards," Chen smiled. "I told them that my balls didn't hurt anymore!"
Transgender people talk about changing sex and life in China, 2016
Indeed, China is also home to 金星 (Jin Xing, or "Venus") who is sometimes referred to as The Oprah of China, and there's a transgender model 刘婷 (Liu Ting) who even put her surgical photos online. So there are people who are openly transgender in China, on social media and in real life. (Actually, a related topic was discussed on Mandarin Corner, where parents are worried about there being too much crossdressing on Chinese social media.)
Transgender people have been winning some (not all) discrimination lawsuits in recent years, such as a trans man who was fired in 2017. In 2019, a trans woman successfully sued 当当网 (DangDangWang, a major online Chinese retailer) about missed work and bathroom usage; from the judge's opinion (Jan 2020; see also Sina News):
[Google Translate:] We respect and protect the personality, dignity and legitimate rights of transgender people based on our cherishment of the dignity and rights of citizens, rather than advocating and promoting transgender people.
[Google Translate:] … Gao has the right to go to the toilet as a female, and other colleagues should also accept Gao’s new gender and work with her with an inclusive attitude.
(The gender-neutral pronoun 其 is mistranslated to "him" by Google Translate; I corrected it above.)
In general, opposition to transgenderism is often rooted in gender essentialism and the idea that breaking the gender "rules" makes you a sexual deviant or pervert. It's also possible people conflate homosexuality with transgenderism, and then apply their anti-LGB logic to the T. Some unpleasant Chinese terminology (e.g. 人妖 = lit. "human monster" = "transgender") is still used. To my knowledge, being transgender is still considered a mental disorder in the CCMD-3 (despite calls for its removal). All in all, I feel "opposition" to the T is more accurately described as a combination of "ignorance" and "apathy" leading to inaction on making the system more flexible and suitable to more transgender people.