The 798 Arts District is one of the Chinese capital’s largest cultural complexes, housing a number of leading galleries and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. Two women arrived at the area Sunday wearing flag pins in support of the International Day Against Homophobia, reported The Art Newspaper. Uniformed guards who are employed by 798 are alleged to have seen the pins and shoved one of the women to the ground and punched the other in the face, according to Chinese social media users and brief videos on social media that captured the incident and have since been removed. A staff member of the property management department of the administrative committee that oversees 798 defended the guards to the state media outlet, the Global Times. “Wearing a rainbow badge is illegal to me, and they, the homosexuals, have distorted sexual orientation,” he said. He claimed that 798 management “has a right to stop illegal activity,” and so the beatings were justified. Homosexuality is, in fact, not illegal in China but there are few legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community in the country.
The actions and subsequent response were roundly criticized by members of China’s art world, but others said that, sadly, the incident was not surprising. One openly gay staff member of the 798 Arts District said the small pins were being reimagined as “malicious propaganda” to sway public opinion toward the assaulters. Raf Hu, who is the managing director of the project spaces MMS2 in Berlin and MMS3 in Chengdu, told The Art Newspaper that the arts center may support cutting edge contemporary art, but it is, at its heart, conservative. “I don’t really think security hates the LGBTQ community,” Hu said. “They are just ignorant when their superior asks them to stop anything out of their comfort zone.”