It started with a kiss – Chai Cheng fights for social equality


started with a kiss chai cheng china southern cabin boy
Image: Chai Cheng, Weibo

Chai Cheng’s battle for social equality truly started with a kiss. When a video of Chai kissing a co-worker went viral, he lost his job. Now famous on social media as the China Southern Cabin Boy, Chai since embarked on a court battle to protect LGBTIQ+ rights and for social equality.

Chai Cheng worked for state-owned China Southern as a flight attendant for five years. The 29-tea-old kept his sexuality private to protect his career. Although China does not criminalise homosexuality, LGBTIQ+ people still face persistent discrimination in the country.

Started with a kiss

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However, in October 2019, Chai involuntarily came out to millions of Chinese via a leaked video. The incident happened in a lift in a private apartment building. Chai Cheng and a China Southern pilot, both off-duty, kissed each other passionately in what they assumed to be a private space. However, the lift contained a security camera and someone leaked the footage.

The airline at first grounded the attendant, now widely known as China Southern Cabin Boy. A manager took Chai aside and told him that homosexuality offended ‘socialist core values’.  Then, in April 2020, the airline informed Chai they would not renew his employment contract.

started with a kiss chai cheng china southern cabin boy
Image: Weibo

The pilot the video showed Chai kissing did not face similar consequences. Aviation sources said because Chinese airlines usually pay to train their pilots, they would be reluctant to lose their investment. However, Chai Cheng, as a flight attendant, was expendable.

But Chai decided not to go quietly. He enlisted a lawyer to sue the airline over lost pay during the period he was grounded. A court heard the case in November and Chai, who now has a job in a different industry, is currently awaiting the verdict.

He said, “I gave up a career that I’ve felt passionate about since childhood. But I needed this fight. Whether it’s to improve the laws, protect our rights, or promote social equality and openness… someone needs to push it forward.”

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