Mainland opening up to gays with first beauty contest

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 January, 2010, 12:00am

First it was the landmark presence of Chinese athletes at the World Outgames in Copenhagen in July last year, then a highly publicised wedding of two homosexual males in Chengdu earlier this month. Next comes the first gay beauty pageant, to be held in Beijing tomorrow.

The growing visibility of these events indicates a rising openness towards homosexuality on the mainland, where it was once a taboo topic.

Only 15 men have signed up for the Mr Gay China contest, out of an estimated 30 million homosexuals, but Ben Zhang, a co-organiser, said he was happy with the number of contestants.

Zhang said organisers had drawn inspiration from Mr Gay Hong Kong, and he made no secret that he was using the contest to promote his business organising events for upmarket gay men. 'Events of such nature will help promote welfare of the gay community and draw public attention to this group,' he said.

China has no institutionalised homophobia, but it remains a generally conservative society. The gay community is divided over whether to maintain a high profile or try to avoid unwanted attention.

Prominent sociologist Li Yinhe said the pros of a high profile were starting to outweigh the cons. 'At the least they should have their voices heard and make their existence visible, otherwise why should people care about homosexual marriage?' said the professor, a staunch supporter for legalising gay marriage.

Citing a recent China Central Television report about the opening of the first government-backed gay bar in Dali , Yunnan province, and a report in the China Daily on a Shanghai gay parade in June last year, Li said there was a trend in state media reports for casting the gay community in a good light.

This claim was backed up in yesterday's China Daily, which ran a front-page spread on the gay couple from Sichuan's Chengdu who tied the knot. In the report, one of the men said his family had threatened to disown him unless he broke off the relationship, and he had been the subject of public rebuke.

Zhang said the reaction to the pageant among internet users had been far from flattering. Some said they had 'brought shame on the Chinese people' because the winner of Mr Gay China would represent the country at next month's global finals.

'No matter if it is good or bad, public reaction helps raise public awareness of homosexuality,' he said. 'The growing awareness will gradually have an impact on how the public perceives the community.'