A former China Southern flight attendant who was suspended for six months and had his pay docked by 90 per cent after a video emerged of him kissing another man off duty is suing the airline alleging discrimination. Although same-sex relations were legalised in China back in 1997, LGBTQ people still face discrimination at work, home and in public.
Going only by his surname for fear of an online backlash, Chai is being helped by LGBT Rights Advocacy China to bring the rare legal challenge against what is China’s largest airline.
Last year, a video emerged of Chai kissing another man. The video was recorded and posted to social media without his consent. Like many LGBTQ people in China, Chai deliberately kept his sexual orientation a secret because of discrimination concerns.
When managers at China Southern found out about the video, Chai alleges he was immediately suspended. In total, he claims to have been on suspension for six months, during which time he only received 10 per cent of his usual wages.
His employment was then terminated when his contract came up for renewal in April this year. Chai had worked for China Southern for five years and believes discrimination against LGBTQ people was the reason that his contract was not renewed.
Unlike airlines in the West that have been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, China Southern Airlines has just reported a quarterly operating profit on the back of strong domestic demand.
“I don’t want there to be anyone else like me who will be treated in this way. I think I really represent a very, very common worker, but just one who happens to be a sexual minority,” Chai told the AP News agency which first reported the story.
“We shouldn’t be discriminated against, we shouldn’t be oppressed and receive this unfair treatment, that’s why I am protesting.”
Lawsuits of this nature, however, remain a rarity in China which does not have a specific law that explicitly protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. A case brought before an employment tribunal has already been rejected but Chai has now filed a lawsuit in a court in Shenzen.
“I understand what it means for me to go against a company this large, to fight for my rights,” Chai continued. “It means I can never do the job that I love again, at least not in China.”
Under pressure from the international community, China has promised to introduce anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBTQ people in the workplace. China’s self-imposed deadline to enact the legislation, however, passed in March this year and local media have censored news of the proposed law.
According to Amnesty International, gay people in China continue to face “widespread discrimination and stigma in society”. Amnesty also claims there have been attempts to remove content on gay-related issues across Chinese social media.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.