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Chinese Gays Turn to GLBT Center in Beijing

by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Staff Reporter
Monday June 7, 2010

Social acceptance of gays and lesbians is coming along degree by degree in China, where a one-child policy reinforces a cultural premium on sons who will continue the family lineage. A GLBT center in the nation's capital city offers help and support to gays.

The Beijing LGBT Center is run out of a private apartment, noted a June 7 story at the English language version of People's Daily Online. The center started on Feb., 14, 2008; since then it has invited gay celebrities to speak, and screened films of GLBT interest. The center has hosted a GLBT-themed book sale timed to take place during a Queer Literature Forum that in itself was timed to coincide with Pride month, the article said.

"Our organization is trying to provide a safe, equal and tolerant space for the LGBT community," said the center's manager, 24-year-old Yang Ziguang.

Said center volunteer Wan Xiaoya, a 21-year-old heterosexual, "I've made a lot of gay friends here. Being with them enables me to be more sympathetic toward unfamiliar things, and be more willing to fight against unfair conduct."

Though there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality in China, critics say that the government does not promote awareness of GLBT issues. On occasion, the government shuts down LGBT web sites; earlier this year, police canceled what would have been the first gay pageant in the country at the last minute. Even so, there have been signs of a growing acceptance of GLBTs in China; the government opened an officially approved gay bar last fall, and unofficially gay nightspots are flourishing. Moreover, a new production of a 17th century play about two lesbians has brought a jolt of excitement to the Chinese LGBT community.

The play, titled Lianxiang Ban (or, in its official English translation, A Romance: Two Belles in Love) is the work of playwright Li Yu. In the play, which is presented as a classical opera, two women fall in love and make plans to marry the same man in order to married, in a sense, to one another. The famed Poly Theatre in Beijing presented the play.

"The fact that we have approval to put this kind of subject matter on stage is one more step towards Chinese society becoming more open-minded," the production's director, openly gay filmmaker Stanley Kwan, told the press.

In April, just before the May 1 opening of the world exposition in Shanghai, China followed the United States in lifting a longstanding travel ban on HIV+ visitors. The change--which amends two laws, one from 1986 and another from 1989--became effective on April 24.

Though the Chinese government in the past has adopted temporary reversals of the HIV+ travel ban, the new amendment seems to be intended as a permanent change. Some health-related travel bans remain in place, including exclusions targeting serious forms of mental illness and "infectious diseases which could possibly greatly harm the public health," such as tuberculosis.

China enjoys a relatively low rate of HIV infection, with estimates ranging from about half a million to one million Chinese living with the virus.

As many such institutions do, the Beijing LGBT Center struggles to provide services with limited funds. Donations of one yuan are encouraged for events at the center; events such as the book sale also help raise funds. "The amount of this donation is too small to cover the electricity fee, but it doesn't matter," noted Yang. "By doing this, we symbolize one's participation, support, action and change, to pass on the voice of the LGBT community."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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