In October 2019, footage was leaked on-line of Chai kissing a male pilot from the identical airline — China Southern, the nation’s largest provider.
Each males had been off responsibility, and the kiss — which has since been considered thousands and thousands of instances — occurred in an elevator in a non-public condominium constructing.
Because the clip unfold on-line, Chai was rapidly grounded by the corporate and finally let go.
He’s now suing the airline for misplaced wages, in a case that’s seen as a check of China’s stance on office discrimination.
Campaigners say Chai’s dismissal highlights the perils confronted by LGBTQ staff in China attributable to lack of authorized safety — and now they’re calling for office equality legal guidelines.
On Chinese language social media, Chai is sometimes called “the China Southern cabin boy.” However in China’s LGBTQ neighborhood, he has grow to be a hero and an unlikely activist.
The 29-year-old mentioned the episode has upended his life, each professionally and personally. He misplaced his dream job, and has struggled to begin a brand new profession or discover a relationship.
“I generally want I may rewind to the time earlier than the incident,” mentioned Chai. “So I may simply be an strange flight attendant.”
CNN has sought remark from China Southern, a state-owned mega-carrier that flew greater than 151 million passengers in 2019, on Chai’s case and its company coverage on LGBTQ workers, however has not acquired a response.
Towards ‘socialist core values’
Homosexuality will not be unlawful in China and it was formally faraway from a listing of psychological problems in 2001. However specialists and activists say LGBTQ individuals nonetheless face persistent discrimination and prejudice.
Chai mentioned he had saved his sexuality personal throughout his 5 years working at China Southern for worry that it might harm his profession prospects.
After the video of him kissing his co-worker went viral, Chai mentioned he was taken apart by a senior supervisor who instructed him that homosexuality was towards “socialist core values,” and requested him to stay silent on the subject.
Chai mentioned he complied however in April 2020 his managers instructed him they might not be renewing his contract.
“They instructed me ‘it was for apparent causes,'” Chai mentioned.
“However I did not break any legal guidelines or company guidelines. I went from being an excellent worker, acknowledged by the corporate with quick promotions, to somebody they wished to don’t have anything to do with merely due to my sexual orientation.
“That is incorrect … and anybody might be the following sufferer.”
Peng Yanhui, who heads the China Rainbow Media Awards, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group, mentioned firms hardly ever hearth LGBTQ workers “explicitly” for being homosexual. “They use excuses — and this case is not any exception,” he mentioned.
The pilot in Chai’s case wasn’t fired by the airline, in line with an individual with information of the state of affairs, who will not be approved to talk on personnel issues. The supply mentioned a probable cause was that China’s state airline firms usually pay for his or her pilots’ coaching, and since carriers are far more reluctant to forego that steep funding, pilots have considerably extra job safety.
In August 2020, Chai determined to sue China Southern over misplaced compensation because of the corporate’s resolution to floor him for six months following the looks of the video. The go well with is not technically about discrimination however his lawyer mentioned, in the event that they win, it may pave the best way for an additional authorized case instantly addressing that problem.
A 2008 legislation prohibits employment discrimination based mostly on “gender,” which has been interpreted by some attorneys to cowl sexual orientation, nevertheless it would not appear to have been examined in courtroom but.
“China Southern is a state-owned behemoth,” mentioned Zhong Xialu, Chai’s lawyer. “Their company choices signify the stance of mainstream employers.”
“LGBTQ workers usually take it as a right that they’ve to remain within the closet to outlive and performance in such workplaces,” she added. “By this case, we’re attempting to inform them that it is the employers who’re within the incorrect — and workers should not really feel compelled to place up with an organization’s incorrect coverage.”
Though Chai recorded a few of his supervisor’s homophobic remarks — together with calling homosexuality “irregular” — throughout their conversations, Zhong mentioned the airline insisted in courtroom that these represented private opinions, not a company place.
In 2016, the United Nations Improvement Program (UNDP) and two native NGOs launched a examine on the acceptance of sexual minorities in China. Of the 28,000 LGBTQ contributors, they discovered that 64% had been “undecided” in the event that they had been accepted by their supervisors at work and 19% mentioned they had been rejected. Solely 17% saying they had been accepted.
The identical survey discovered solely 5% of respondents had come out to their household and mates, whereas the overwhelming majority selected to dwell within the closet.
Chai remembered instances when coworkers mocked extra effeminate homosexual flight attendants at China Southern — he mentioned he stayed quiet to keep away from undesirable consideration.
After he was outed by the video, he mentioned many fellow homosexual workers retreated additional again into the closet for worry of turning into targets themselves.
“Many individuals who used to hang around with me stopped interacting with me,” he mentioned. “Everyone seems to be afraid.”
Since 2016, Chinese language censors have banned portrayals on TV and on-line of what they see as “irregular sexual behaviors,” together with homosexual relationships. Most media and companies in China have lengthy stayed away from the topic to keep away from operating afoul of presidency restrictions.
With Chinese language chief Xi Jinping more and more stressing the ruling Communist Occasion’s absolute management over each facet of society, some analysts suspect a extra direct hyperlink between the dearth of LGBTQ rights and high officers’ worldview.
Lots of the nation’s present leaders grew up throughout the Cultural Revolution within the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s, when authorities tried to purge any “non-socialist” components — together with homosexuality — from Chinese language society.
“LGBTQ workers are nonetheless compelled to dwell a lie in a spot the place they spend a lot time,” mentioned Peng, the homosexual rights advocate. “It could be an government’s private opinion that homosexuality is irregular or immoral — but when there’s a office equality legislation, what that government thinks will not matter anymore.”
Zhong, the lawyer, additionally sees the dearth of authorized safety as the foundation trigger to Chai’s case. In the US, employment discrimination based mostly on one’s sexual id is now prohibited by federal legislation following a landmark Supreme Courtroom ruling final 12 months.
Jesse Liu, a 28-year-old Chinese language nationwide who has labored as a flight attendant at Texas-based American Airways for 5 years, mentioned Chai’s plight underscores the vulnerability of LGBTQ staff in China.
After studying Chai’s story, Liu, who’s homosexual, left an indignant touch upon the official Instagram web page of China Southern, which is listed on the New York Inventory Trade and had been quickly increasing its international community earlier than the pandemic.
“You are attempting to be a global provider, however the best way you dealt with this incident is towards each single human proper worth that worldwide society is rooting for,” he recalled what he had written. “As a homosexual passenger, I would not need to spend any cash flying your airline.”
‘I wanted this battle’
Chai’s lawyer, Zhong, takes a protracted view in relation to China finally enacting a office equality legislation.
“We’re simply on the stage of elevating the problem,” she mentioned.
“Legal guidelines are likely to lag behind points. Citing a problem, prompting public debate and reaching some type of consensus often happen earlier than legal guidelines are revised.”
The 2016 UNDP examine discovered lower than 5% of the LGBTQ respondents in China reported that worker equality coaching was out there at their workplaces, and fewer than 10% confirmed their firms had such laws.
In contrast with their straight coworkers, sexual and gender minorities additionally skilled decrease job stability and the next unemployment fee, the survey discovered.
After Chai misplaced his job at China Southern, he moved to Beijing to begin anew, however saved hitting a wall in his job looking when potential bosses discovered about his employment historical past. His private life has additionally suffered. Individuals usually see him as a scandalous determine, he mentioned.
Though Chai lastly discovered work at a healthcare supplier in February, he nonetheless desires of flying. He mentioned he’s keenly conscious of 1 devastating consequence of suing China Southern: No Chinese language airline will ever rent him.
After a courtroom listening to on his case final November, he’s nonetheless ready for a verdict.
“I gave up a profession that I’ve felt enthusiastic about since childhood,” he mentioned. “However I wanted this battle.
“Whether or not it is to enhance the legal guidelines, shield our rights, or promote social equality and openness — somebody must push it ahead.”