Although judicial decisions, like the case against Dangdang, raise awareness in society, support the LGBTQ+ cause in China and highlight the legal battles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Chinese workplaces; a closer examination of broader workplace experiences reveals a more pervasive issue of discrimination. The efforts of policymakers to improve the working conditions of queer Chinese are still riddled with challenges of policy gaps and implementation, amidst a difficult working environment in general.

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Amidst discussions about the substantial purchasing power of the LGBT community, there is a discernible lack of attention given to their roles as employees and their experiences within the workplace. In a rare ruling issued by the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court in 2020 against workplace discrimination, the Chinese e-commerce platform Beijing Dangdang Information Technology Co. Ltd was found guilty of the wrongful termination of a transgender person’s employment for “absence of work” after taking two months post-gender reassignment surgery in 2018. Although judicial decisions, like the case against Dangdang, raise awareness in society, support the LGBTQ+ cause in China and highlight the legal battles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Chinese workplaces; a closer examination of broader workplace experiences reveals a more pervasive issue of discrimination. The efforts of policymakers to improve the working conditions of queer Chinese are still riddled with challenges of policy gaps and implementation, amidst a difficult working environment in general.

Challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people in Chinese workplaces and the price of exclusion

According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, only 5 percent of LGBTQ+ people in China choose to reveal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity at the workplace. Furthermore, another report found that 20 percent of LGBTQ+ people had previously experienced workplace discrimination and harassment due to their sexual or gender orientation, while only 11.3 percent of respondents stated that their workplaces were “open and accepting”. In another survey, it was revealed that 45 percent of survey takers concealed their sexual or gender identities at work  There have also been several instances of LGBTQ+ people being fired due to their sexual or gender identity. Wu Lijuan, a professor at Peking University, stated that measures to uphold gay rights in workplaces in China are still in the initial stage. In the Survey Report on LGBTI Diversity and Inclusion in Corporation in China conducted by Beijing  LGBT Center and Peking University, with support from the UNDP, only 13.9 percent of the companies surveyed have formal rules covering anti-discrimination and equal opportunities.

In the same vein, such discrimination at the workplace further demoralises queer people, making it harder for them to reveal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Not only do queer people have to live through being the object of ridicule and listen to sexually inappropriate comments in the workplace, but they are also more likely to not find gainful employment due to their sexuality and gender. Furthermore, due to the prejudice against queer people, often non-LGBTQ+ employees and employers are uncomfortable with their LGBTQ+ counterparts and treat them differently. This situation tends to be worse for lesbians than gay men, as they are rendered even more invisible in discussions on LGBTQ+ issues in China and are more susceptible to violence. For instance, a study found that women who identified as lesbian, bisexual or transgender were 30 percent less likely to be considered for employment.

The (structural, public and self) stigmas, prejudices and discrimination which LGBTQ+ people in China experience manifests itself negatively in people’s health, both physical and mental, which in turn makes it harder for queer Chinese to live up to their full potential in educational and professional settings. Due to the stress and psychological distress they feel, LGBTQ+ people, especially youth, are at higher risk of having mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicidality when compared with heterosexuals. However, a more supportive work environment decreases these stressors in the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals significantly and they are more inclined to be committed to their organisations, have greater job satisfaction and are less inclined to quit.

As the challenges of revealing one's LGBTQ+ identity in the workplace persist, a considerable number of queer individuals in China opt for migration to countries with more LGBTQ+-friendly environments and inclusive policies. This trend has resulted in a 'brain drain' within China, imposing constraints on the domestic skilled labour supply. Beyond its impact on the demographic landscape and the loss of skilled LGBTQ+ individuals, this phenomenon can also be interpreted as a strategic soft power move, with countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Canada effectively attracting Chinese talent away from Beijing. The ramifications extend beyond individual career choices, shaping not only the domestic workforce but also influencing global talent distribution in the geopolitical landscape.

Macroeconomic development and the benefits of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace

Across the globe —and in China as well— businesses have increasingly started noticing that LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workforce is not only beneficial for their employees but also for the businesses themselves. By discriminating against potential employees based on characteristics like sexual orientation or gender identity, businesses hinder their own performance by overlooking valuable talent. In order to not miss out on talent, an increasing number of companies in China have also begun to express inclusive policies for the LGBTQ+ community during job recruitment drives. Furthermore, research has shown that having inclusive recruitment policies is attractive to non-LGBTQ+ job applicants as well.

Studies have also shown a positive correlation between the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community and greater macroeconomic development. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ inclusion in the economy through “strategic modernisation” aids in earning a ‘modern’ reputation and image of the country in order to attract tourists, trade and foreign investors. It not only signals tolerance and visibility of LGBTQ+ but also that of an open and creative business environment. Conversely, economic development is impeded by the exclusion of minority groups, leading to decreased work hours, diminished productivity, insufficient investment in resources, and a suboptimal distribution of human capital.

Increasing workplace diversity also improves workplace performance and innovation; this is not only true for inclusive policies towards the LGBTQ+ community but also towards other groups, especially women and minority groups. However, this only holds true for countries and businesses which view diversity as important. Moreover, the fact that the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in the workforce leads to the effective utilisation of existing human capital is another factor that must be taken note of. To realise this, employers need to invest in creating safe spaces for their employees in the workplace. In this regard, several Chinese companies have used LGBTQ+-inclusive marketing and advertising campaigns to showcase their support for sexual minorities and commitment towards celebrating diversity and inclusivity. This includes both companies which specifically serve LGBTQ+ consumer demand, as well as bigger mainstream companies —DiDi Chuxing (the Chinese equivalent of Uber), Baidu (the Chinese version of Google), and Meizu have all launched advertising campaigns acknowledging same-sex couples and have experienced positive business outcomes by adopting LGBTQ+- inclusive policies.

Navigating policy gaps and implementing inclusive measures

Government policies are instrumental in creating more affirming and inclusive work environments. Although China’s Employment Promotion Law bans discrimination based on gender, race, religion and ethnicity, it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against sexual minorities. The introduction of explicit legal provisions that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression in the workplace would provide a clear legal foundation for LGBTQ+ individuals to challenge discriminatory practices. LGBTQ+ individuals should also be provided with easy access to legal resources for reporting workplace discrimination, this can be done by establishing dedicated helplines or legal aid services. Both government and business policy formulation and implementation will gain from more research centered on China on the benefits of having LGBTQ+-inclusive policies in the workplace as well as the disadvantages of exclusionary practices for work performance and productivity. Through further research, policies of zero-tolerance against discrimination in the workplace and the provision of support mechanisms for employees can be implemented.

However, companies in China can start implementing and formalising inclusive policies by following the UN Standards of Conduct for Business —unfortunately, the current lack of prioritisation for gender and sexuality issues, coupled with a dearth of incentives to adhere to these standards, places Chinese companies at a noticeable lag behind the workplace benchmarks advocated by the UN. Businesses can make use of other resources by Chinese LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. Companies should implement mandatory diversity and inclusion training programs for employees at all levels, covering topics related to LGBTQ+ awareness, sensitivity, and equal treatment; conduct regular audits to assess workplace inclusivity and identify areas for improvement. Furthermore, they should establish support mechanisms that specifically address the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ employees. Moreover, greater social inclusion through the provision of legal rights is directly proportional to the increased level of prosperity and economic development.

To realize its aspirations of becoming a global superpower, China must recognize the LGBTQ+ community as an integral part of its society, rather than treating them as a separate entity; Beijing needs to proactively address the needs and desires of queer Chinese individuals. However, the gradual nature of these structural changes is compounded by the absence of a vibrant civil society in China. Consequently, external influences, such as the UN, international LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations or global LGBTQ+ movements, are more likely to shape these transformations than internal forces.


Ahana Roy is Research Associate and Chief Operations Officer at Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA). She is a postgraduate in Political Science with International Relations from Jadavpur University. Her areas of interest include non-traditional security studies with a focus on gender and sexuality studies, society, and culture in China specifically and East Asia broadly. She can be reached on Twitter @ahanaworks and her email

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