March 11, 2013 -- Of all the ways a son can be disrespectful to his parents, argued the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, the worst is to have no offspring.
Now, in a bold challenge to this centuries-old tradition, nearly 200 parents of gays and lesbians in China have written an open letter to Chinese lawmakers demanding that their children be allowed to legally marry and have children.
The letter was published by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a gay rights group based in the southern China city of Guangzhou. The group helps parents to communicate with their gay children.
In the open letter, the parents wrote: "Some of our children have been with their same-sex partners for almost 10 years; they care for and love each other deeply, but they are unable to legally authorize medical treatment for their partners when they are ill and in need of an operation. As the parents of homosexuals, we are often worried, because they cannot legally marry, and this impacts to various degrees their ability to adopt; authorize necessary medical treatment; inherit their partner's assets, or even buy an apartment."
Homosexuality was still a crime until 1997 and classified as a mental illness until 2001. Chairman Mao Zedong led a campaign to wipe out homosexuality, which he called a psychological disorder and a form of hooliganism.
The nightmare continued for one of the parents, known as Mama Romance on the Internet, when the number of the administration office at the military university her son attended appeared on her cell phone in 2011.
The school needed to talk to the woman, who asked that only her surname, Wang, be used in this article, about persuading her son to transfer and drop the military school voluntarily because his sexual orientation is still not allowed in Chinese military system.
Mama Romance knew she couldn't lie to herself anymore and her son was, indeed, gay. It was the worst day in her life when her 15-year-old son came out to her and told her he was gay in the summer of 2006. She refused to accept the fact. For the next five years, she did everything she could to change her son. She even hoped that by sending him to military school would make him behave a little more masculine and stop loving stuffed animals.
Wang nervously told her 70-year-old mother that her only grandson was gay and would never get married to a woman. To her amazement, her mother only offered one suggestion: "You need to make sure he has a child."
Wang's mother further shocked her by saying that when she was sent to the countryside to work with peasants during the Maoist political movements of the 1960s, she encountered "men who liked men and women who liked women" in the villages.
"We have followed the government's one-child-policy," Wang said in a phone interview. "My son doesn't have any siblings. I don't depend on the government to take care me when I'm old, so how can I trust the government would take care of my son when he is old? He wouldn't have anyone to authorize medical treatment for him after I die.
"My child and many other gay kids are wonderful people," she insisted. "They should have the right to get married and adopt children."
In China, having children out of wedlock is illegal.
The legalization of same-sex marriage has been a hot topic on Chinese Internet sites during this year's annual session of China's legislature.
QQ.com, a popular instant messaging site, has published a survey asking whether same-sex marriage should be legalized. 20,518 voted yes. 1,992 voted no.
One user, using the online name Zhangsichen, wrote on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, "Everyone has the right to love and be loved. True love should be accepted. You can choose not to accept it, but you don't have the right to interfere with the freedom and rights of others."
On the other side of the argument, a user named Guo Jiani wrote, "We need to distinguish between right and wrong. We can't categorize wrong as right out of sympathy. If the world is full of gays, then we won't have a next generation, and the world will become evil."
There is still no news from the government about the proposal's fate.
Li Yinhe, a sexologist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a promoter of LGBT rights, asked deputies to submit a proposal to the legislature to legalize same-sex marriages. But she couldn't find the minimum of 30 deputies needed to table the bill. The members rejected her by saying they were "not familiar with this topic."
"It is a very good sign that the Chinese media are discussing this topic openly and positively this year," Li commented. "Usually, the government would warn the media not to mention a word about this topic. But there is still a very long way to go before we legalize same-sex marriage."
Since accepting her son's sexual orientation, Wang has spent her spare time on the Internet reading the stories of gay and lesbian children, and helping their parents to understand and accept them.
Her husband divorced her, remarried and had another son.
"He could never accept that his son is gay," she said.