Hotline spurs hopes for equal rights

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2004, 12:00am

One year ago, a state-run hospital contacted Shanghai lawyer Dan Zhou to help organise a health hotline. Legal and health advice might seem strange bedfellows, but when Mr Zhou pioneered the Shanghai Hotline for Sexual Minorities, he helped provide a formal way to address the legal needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

'The advice I give is mostly not health related, we offer some advice on how to come out, to parents, colleagues and friends, and, of course, legal advice,' he says.

The government approval of the hotline reflects a gradual acceptance of the special health and legal needs of homosexuals living in China.

Recently, Fudan University in Shanghai invited Professor Shide Qin from Qingdao to lecture in a course titled 'Homosexual Health, Society and Science'. Also, Professor Yinghe Li of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing has become a vocal expert on gay and lesbian studies.

Mr Zhou highlights his cautious optimism while defending homosexuals: 'You have to remember that change is slow. It took the government until 2001 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

'Although we don't see the types of hate crimes against gays and lesbians that you find in the US, I think that straight lawyers would not always represent the views of lesbians and gays and that's why I had to come forward.'

Mr Zhou is now a visiting scholar at Yale University in the US.

He describes his work in the US as exciting, just as the presidential candidates are stirring up a torrent of legal discourse related to gay marriage. However, Mr Zhou said he was anxious to return to Shanghai this month to continue his pioneering work.