"Love is not a choice," reads the text in a series of advertisements that began appearing Friday on social media sites across the state-controlled Internet in China. "We did not choose to be homosexual. We just are. Happily, the world is big enough for all of us."
The fact that the Chinese government strictly controls what Internet users can see on the Web and appears to be on board with the campaign bodes well for the future of LGBT equality in China. Still, the world's most populous nation remains a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are seen as mentally ill -- and where marriage equality is a far-off dream.
One of the organizers of the campaign, David Li, 35, points to a same-sex love story shared on a website back in 2001 as the impetus for his own self-acceptance as a gay man and, ultimately, his coming-out.
"The majority still think being gay is either perverted or a kind of illness," Li told HuffPo. "And of course, due to the general censorship, it's extremely difficult to get positive LGBT information out to the public."
Yet the launch of "Love Is Not a Choice" in China on Valentine's Day weekend points to a fast-changing environment, with a public awareness effort with official backing and a level of sophistication evidenced by another line of text from the ad campaign:
"We did not choose to be heterosexual," reads the copy that accompanies one of the ads -- all of which feature couples in wholesomely romantic vignettes, including one with a man fixing his boyfriend's necktie and another with a couple holding hands in their kitchen. The site invites others to share their photos and videos.
Li has long been involved in pushing the boundaries in China, inching the country ever closer to the dream of acceptance and equality for all, regardless of gender expression and identity or sexual orientation. According to HuffPo, he was the first graduate of an international cutting-edge education and awareness campaign based at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Following that experience, Li brought home new skills to China and to a Chines organization that advocates for the LGBT people, called Aibai Culture and Education Center.
"The biggest challenge that LGBT [people] have right now in China, I think, is the lack of safety that we feel all the time," he said. "We fear that our identity might be exposed and trouble will come along with that: education, job, hospital, [renting] an apartment. All kinds of trouble."
That lack of legal recognition is something Moly Mao, 32, of Shanghai knows too well. She had to fly to Hawaii to marry her wife, as same-sex marriage is not legal in China. She and her wife posed for one of the ads. Mao has high hopes that that the ads will speak to the hearts and minds of the Chinese public.
"We want to tell them, 'We are out and we can live a very happy and light life, not just stand in the shadow.' That is no use for us," she HuffPo.