TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A former flight attendant is suing China Southern Airlines for suspending him after his sexual orientation was made public without his consent last year, in a rare legal maneuver that pits him against the country’s largest airline.
A video showing the man kissing another man was leaked on Chinese social media in October 2019. The man, surnamed Chai, who is declining to use his full name in media appearances, brought his case to a court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Monday.
Since the video appeared, the airline suspended Chai for six months and cut his pay, Chai’s lawyer Zhong Xialu said. Chai said he was paid around 10% of his salary while under suspension. The airline also declined to renew his contract, which was a five-year deal that was up for renewal in April this year.
Chai, who had been working for the airline since 2015, said he was sad to lose a job that he loved.
“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,” he said. “We shouldn’t be discriminated against, we shouldn’t be oppressed and receive this unfair treatment, that’s why I am protesting.”
“I understand what it means for me to go against a company this large, to fight for my rights,” he added. “It means I can never do the job that I love again, at least not in China.”
LGBT individuals in China still face widespread discrimination and many do not reveal their sexual orientation at their workplaces for fear it could impact their career.
In the past few years, a few individuals, with assistance from activists, have successfully lobbied their cases in court. Many do so through cases brought in under consumer or employment law, as China does not have specific laws prohibiting discrimination based on one’s gender or sexual identity.
Chai had previously brought the case to arbitration as a labor dispute, but the arbitration court ruled in favor of the airline in August. He then decided to take his dispute to court. On Monday, he appeared in a Shenzhen court to argue that the company had violated labor laws by suspending him without reasonable evidence.
China Southern is owned directly by the government. Representatives to the company’s public relations department could not be reached for comment.
“A company this large and their attitude toward sexual minorities really represents what the workplace environment is like for sexual minorities in China,” said Zhong, the lawyer.
This is the second such case in recent years that activists have waged on discrimination in the workplace for LGBT individuals in China.
In September 2018, a preschool teacher in the coastal city of Qingdao sued his former employer after he was forced to leave his job when he was outed on social media. He won the case, but solely as a labor dispute.
“China doesn’t have an anti-discrimination law and it does not have an workplace anti-discrimination law,” said Peng Yanzi, director of L.G.B.T. Rights Advocacy China, an activist group. “So when many people are met with discrimination in the workplace, they basically have no law to rely on.”