Two students at one of China’s top universities who were disciplined in 2022 for distributing rainbow flags on campus have filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education, demanding it review the penalty.
The Tsinghua University students, who would only be identified by their surnames Huang and Li, filed the petition with the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People’s Court on Monday (Feb 20), Huang said.
The two women were given formal disciplinary warnings by Tsinghua’s student affairs office in July last year after they left 10 rainbow flags in a campus supermarket.
They have been seeking to have the decision overturned since then, appealing first within the university and then to the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, to no avail.
The students decided to file the lawsuit after the Ministry of Education dismissed their application for an administrative review early this month. The ministry said their case “does not fall within the scope of administrative reconsideration”.
It is among very few instances of lawsuits filed over the expression of support for LGBTQ rights in China, where public discussion on the topic is considered sensitive and is censored.
Huang said they objected to the accusation of “distributing unauthorised promotional material”on campus, a charge that had “negative impacts”.
Huang said they might consider appealing again if the court did not rule in their favour. “We feel a bit pessimistic about getting a win in the ruling … (But) the lawsuit still has its significance in raising public awareness,” she said.
Yanzi Peng from LGBT Rights Advocacy China said it was impressive that the students were consistently trying to defend their rights through legal means. The university’s penalty reflected a “politicised” misunderstanding and handling, Peng said.
“Gender diversity in education and the right of sexual minority students to a dignified education on campus should be the responsibility of schools and the education system,” he said, noting that strict control over LGBTQ issues would make discrimination on campus worse.