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Beers, but no Queers

by Stephen George Jun 18 2013
Beers, but no Queers

Beijing’s LGBT community denied access to Galaxy Soho (image author's own)

One of Beijing’s most iconic landmarks – the recently opened Galaxy Soho – has become embroiled in controversy after it allegedly moved to prohibit the city’s LGBT community from participating in a craft beer festival it was set to host, on grounds that homosexuals "don’t fit with the site’s architecture."

The space-age style building, designed by Pritzker prize winning architect Zaha Hadid, is due to host this weekend’s second annual craft beer festival, a popular event co-organized by Beijing’s Great Leap Brewing.

According to those familiar with the dispute, organizers had planned to invite Beijing’s LGBT Center to participate in the festival, after their successful inclusion in last year’s event. However, after submitting their festival proposal – which included a description of a LGBT Center booth to the Galaxy Soho management, they were informed that the Center’s representatives would not be allowed access to the venue’s premises, over concerns that LGBT members would not fit with the the site’s architecture ("和我们的建筑 不太吻合").

Putting aside the notion that architecture can be implicitly heterosexual, the move seems at odds with the PR-conscious reputation of the building’s owners – husband and wife team, Pan Shiyi, a former Oil Ministry employee, and Zhang Xin, a one-time Goldman Sachs employee. Once described by The Times of London as "China’s most visible and flamboyant property tycoons," the couple – owners of real estate company SOHO China remain popular public figures in China, and were last year ranked joint 21st on Forbes' China rich list.

Representatives from SOHO China were unavailable for comment at the time of press.

Long-time supporters of the Beijing LGBT Center, festival-organizers Great Leap Brewing, told us they were “very disappointed” with Soho’s decision, but had little choice but to stick with the venue. “There’s nothing we can really do about it at this late stage – it’s also one of the few central venues that can accommodate an event of this size,” explained Great Leap Brewing’s Media & PR Director Liz Phung. “We spoke to Stephen Leonelli (Development & Operations Director of the Beijing LGBT Center) as soon as we found out, and discussed with him the idea of cancelling, but he encouraged us to go ahead with the event nonetheless. This is not the first time the LGBT center has faced this type of discrimination in Beijing.”

An email is now circulating among Beijing’s LGBT community encouraging all members to descend on the festival to show "that queers do indeed match any and all architecture, and exclusion and discrimination is not acceptable."

Update: June 19, 10.15am.

Stephen Leonelli, of the LGBT Center: “We want to reiterate our support of the festival and especially for Great Leap [the festival organizers] who do a lot of valuable work within the LGBT community in China. The best way to react to SOHO, is to show up and participate in the event and support Great Leap Brewing. It’s important to bear in mind – members of the LGBT community as individuals are not banned from attending. I will be there and I encourage others to come too, and show people that we're not monsters - we like drinking craft beers just the same as everyone else.

“I don’t want to protest SOHO, because strategically we know from experience that is not the best way to achieve our goal of acceptance and equality. My strategy, is to have a presence and raise visibility for LGBT people at the event. I do not want this opportunity to be lost.”

This article was amended June 18, at 21.36 at the wishes of Liz Phung, to include an additional quote on behalf of Great Leap Brewing.

Update: June 20, 2.16pm

SOHO reached out to us this morning about what they described as this “shocking news,” adding that “any kind of discrimination is strictly prohibited under our corporate culture.” The representative added that an investigation is underway and emphasized that the company will treat all “staff and guests” equally “regardless of gender, sex orientation, skin color, religion.”

Beijing Cream, which followed up on the story, has spoken to Carl Setzer of Great Leap Brewing, who said the statement was “the result of one bigoted mid-level manager” who “has been reprimanded.”

“The Beijing LGBT Center will have an official tent at our beer fest,” Setzer further added, waving the rainbow flag high and wearing what we hope was a flaming pink V-neck. “The queer community needs good beer, not like the rest of us, but because they are “us.”

Indeed – we’ll see you good folks there on Saturday.

More information on the festival can be found here

// Follow Stephen on Twitter @steve0george and That's Beijing at @thats_beijing

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