A magazine once dedicated to socialist theory has taken a huge break with tradition by devoting its first revamped issue to a positive look at the mainland's gay and lesbian community. The magazine is believed to be the first official publication dedicated to the issue, and the editors have promised they will continue to touch on the subject in the future through columns and periodic articles, in addition to covering other social issues. Now available on newsstands and in gay bars, the previously subscription-only Modern Civilisation Pictorial's 114-page January issue is remarkable for providing a forum for Chinese homosexuals to speak for themselves. With an explicit editorial message stating 'homosexuality is not criminal, a sickness or a sign of moral corruption', the issue is packed with coming-out stories, gay-inspired artwork, pictures of same-sex couples embracing, and issues affecting the homosexual community. Among the topics covered is the phenomenon of male prostitute 'money boys', one Beijing lesbian's story about why she wears more masculine clothing and identifies herself as 'butch', and an in-depth look at the ambiguous legal status of Chinese gays. Even the advertisements are cutting-edge, with the magazine breaking China's 12-year ban on prophylactic advertising by displaying an advert for 'Love Time Ultra-Thin Condoms' that prominently features two Caucasian men kissing. Those perplexed by how such a magazine made it past China's notoriously conservative censors will be surprised to learn it was published by the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 'Once the officials understood we were publishing this to promote communication between straight people and homosexuals, they approved totally,' deputy editor-in-chief You Jie told City Weekend magazine. With homosexuality removed from the list of psychiatric disorders only last year, most Chinese gays and lesbians still find they must keep their sexual identities a secret for fear of being ostracised. But acceptance is increasing. New gay bars have sprung up in Beijing, state television occasionally broadcasts programmes about homosexuality, and even China's prestigious Qinghua University hosted a gay film festival on campus last month. 'Aside from sexual preference, there is no fundamental difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals . . . but they face the problem of friends and loved ones who don't understand, and difficulties about openly identifying as gay,' wrote the magazine's editors on the first page. Gays have generally welcomed the magazine and the editors' sensitivity in revealing their stories. 'This publication is a really important first step towards helping general society look at us as real people and giving them more insight into what being gay is all about,' said Ming, a 29-year-old gay man living in Beijing. 'Hopefully, this is a start towards building legal protections and reducing the fear most homosexuals feel about discrimination.'