by Sophia Seiderer
BEIJING, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- One year after Wei Xiaogang told his parents he is gay, his mother is still trying to find him a wife.
"When I told my mother, she was shocked and cried," he says.
She still thinks he might change if he lived with a woman.
"It is hard for her to accept," says Wei, 33, who had been hiding his sexuality from his parents for many years beforehand.
"There was a long time of doubt and struggle before my coming out."
When he told his parents, he had been with a male partner for several years, although they have since split.
Although homosexuality has become largely socially accepted in many Western countries, it is still immensely complicated in China. It was only in 2001 that homosexuality ceased to be officially described as a mental illness in China.
"Coming out is a big thing for Chinese homosexuals," Wei says.
Most people still regard homosexuals as strange and the refusal of parents to accept their children's sexual orientation is often a reason why many Chinese gays and lesbians marry, says Wei.
"About 80 percent of all Chinese gay and lesbians are living in a heterosexual relationship and marry in order to satisfy their parents."
Which does not mean they do not have a second life while they are married. "Sometimes a gay guy marries a lesbian woman, so both can live their true orientation, but they are officially married for their parents."
Wei has not always talked so openly about his sexuality. "It took me long time to figure it out," he says. "How can you know if you don't have information, if you don't have access to bars where you can meet other guys?"
Wei grew up in the countryside with no openly gay people around him. "It was my cousin who took me to a gay bar the first time in my life. He is gay as well," says Wei.
He had already begun to wonder why women did not attract him. "But that was the point in my life when I understood why." He started to frequent gay bars on his own and met other guys.
It became much easier when he moved to Beijing in 1998. "I experienced more freedom in my lifestyle."
Today he is active in raising public awareness of homosexuality. China Daily in 2005 published a figure that put the number of homosexuals on the Chinese mainland at about 30 million (2.3 percent of the population), though it conceded many Chinese would not openly declare their sexuality.
Statements from government departments and academic reports have put the figure at approximately 15 million.
Wei believes 3 to 5 percent of China's 1.3 billion people are homosexual, putting the actual number at more than 30 million.
But that does not mean, that it is widely accepted, Wei argues.
He studied acting before he moved to producing documentary films. Some of them covered topics concerning homosexuality, but these were at a time of his life when he still had not accepted it in himself.
"I first had to realize that you cannot do anything about it," he says.
In 2007 he founded an organization running the on-line TV show "queercomrades.com." A team of four people shows films and talk shows every month and openly discusses aspects of homosexuality.
About 10 million people in China watch these programs and the Ford Foundation supports the webcast financially.
The show helps to achieve one of Wei's big aims: "To show people that there is diversity -- and it doesn't matter if you think it's good or not. It matters that you accept that others have a different lifestyle, without judgment."