BEIJING, Nov. 30 -- Local authorities in southwestern Yunnan Province are to convert a bar into a 'common room for partner education' for the gay community, as part of the official initiative to break social stigma against gay men, days after the health minister warned that homosexual sex has become a main factor in the spread of AIDS in the nation.
The bar for gays will open tomorrow, World AIDS Day, financed by public funds to the tune of 120,000 yuan ($17, 576), the Beijing News said, offered by Dali Prefecture government, and is to be run by The Good Friend Center, a non-governmental organization for gay men.
Yunnan has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country, official data indicates.
Zhang Jianbo, the bar's manager, told the Global Times that the bar will not be operated for merely commercial purposes but rather serve as a platform to raise awareness of its gay clients about safe sex practice among them.
"We might not even sell beverages in the bar. We will turn the bar into a tribune to offer lectures and training to gay people in order to reduce AIDS infections among them," he said.
Health Minister Chen Zhu said days ago that homosexual sex among gay and bisexual men accounted for 32 percent of the total HIV/AIDS transmission in China, where sexual transmission was the main cause of the great majority of new HIV/AIDS cases last year.
Generally, lesbians are much more loyal to their partners, and their relationship is more stable than that of gay couples of the opposite sex, Zhang said.
"As long as the government succeeds in preventing gay men from becoming the source of HIV/AIDS transmission, we could effectively rein in the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS," Jiang Anmin, vice director of the Dali Health Bureau, said. Jiang put the number of gay men in Dali at between 1,500 and 2,000.
Jiang seemed to downplay the launch of the bar, saying the local government would rather remain low-key, and its interior decoration will be as the same as other bars. A group of gay volunteers will be employed by the bar to attract customers, Jiang said.
"The gay bar at least provides a private place for gay people to communicate and it caters to their needs. It'll help contain sexually transmitted diseases," Duan Honggang, a Dali resident said.
A-Qiang, a gay man in Guangzhou, said, "That's a positive move by the government in its efforts to focus on the group."
Doubts, however, were also notable regarding the intentions of officials in their decision to open such a bar.
Lu Jun, director of the Beijing-based Yirenping Center, an NGO dedicated to promoting public health equality, said, "I doubt how the government can protect the privacy of homosexuals who frequent the bar if it receives much publicity."
However, Wan Yanhai, director of the Love, Knowledge and Action Organization, an NGO dedicated to protecting the rights of people with AIDS and public awareness of AIDS prevention, said there is a possibility that officials just want to collect money under the excuse of cooperating with NGOs to fight against AIDS.
"Some local governments' work is only done symbolically," A-Qiang said. "Gay people are more likely to hide themselves in the dark."
Bars for homosexuals were first seen in China 15 years ago, experts on the theme say, but the social stigma against gay sex appears to still be common, and gays are often likened to socially unacceptable activities such as prostitution or drug use.
"Aside from deep-rooted discrimination, the biggest frustration right now is that I cannot get married to my lover, and obtain legal marriage status," Xiao Dong, a gay man in Beijing, said.
"Room for us to live respectably in this society is still too narrow," he said.
Zhang Beichuan, a professor at the Qingdao University specializing in sexual health, said among Chinese homosexuals, 60 percent feel extremely distressed, between 30 and 40 percent show strong inclination to committing suicide, and between 3 and 13 percent have attempted suicide.
Gay men were regarded as a group of people suffering from mental derangement until 2001 in China, but since then homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder.
While there are no official figures on the number of homosexuals in China, Hong Kong-based magazine Phoenix Weekly estimated that there were around 40 million homosexuals in a story published last year.
The Ministry of Health estimated that 740,000 people were living with HIV in China at the end of 2009.
Statistics showed that 48,000 people had been infected in 2009 and more than 70 percent of new infections are through sexual transmission.
(Source: Global Times)