China’s Pride month is a bit quieter than usual this year, as the country’s largest celebration, Shanghai Pride, has taken an indefinite hiatus since last June.
However, one of the country’s biggest football stars, Li Ying, who plays forward for China women’s national football team, officially came out as a lesbian in a post on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo a few days ago.
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“You are the source and objective of all of my tenderness. 6.18,” wrote Li on Weibo on June 22. A picture attached to the post showed that it was the one-year anniversary of Li’s relationship with her girlfriend. Li’s girlfriend, whose name is Chen Leilei, is a micro-influencer and has over 360,000 fans on Weibo.
Li is the first high-profile sports star in China to come out and the news quickly started gaining traction on social media.
While some of the commentary included conservative criticism and attacks from online trolls, the general public sentiment has been pretty supportive. “I wish her the best… but I hope it won’t affect her career in any way,” wrote one Weibo influencer.
Li’s post was deleted not long after it went viral. Some netizens speculated that Li had been put under pressure from authorities following the announcement.
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One viral post compared Li’s experience with US women’s soccer team member, Megan Rapinoe, who got engaged to basketball star Sue Bird in 2020. In contrast to Li, Rapinoe was welcomed by President Biden at the White House on Equal Pay Day in March this year. “It’s regretful,” wrote the Weibo account, referring to the difference in treatment.
Famed football journalist and blogger Zhao Zhen, who has over 5.39 million followers on Weibo, commented, “Homosexuality in women’s football is no longer a secret. But being brave enough to publicly announce your sexual orientation and girlfriend: Li Ying is the first one,” in a compassionate post.
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Li Ying is one of the most popular players on the China women’s football team. In January 2021, Li was voted as the only Chinese player on the Asian team of the decade by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).
While there is still no legal framework for LGBTQ+ rights in China, an increasing number of people are becoming more vocal about their sexuality, as the public, in particular the younger generation, is becoming more open-minded about gay and trans issues.
In March, 19-year-old Chinese beauty and dance influencer Abbily garnered broad public support following an announcement online about her successful gender-affirming surgery. Two months later in May, China’s only transgender celebrity Jin Xing became the new public face of Dior.
Cover Image: Screenshot from Li Ying’s Weibo
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