Large-scale HIV prevention among Chinese gay men will require greater social acceptance and tolerance of them, according to gay-rights advocate Wei Jiangang.
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The author of the popular Queer Comrades blog notes that a government-funded gay bar in Dali, southern Yunnan province, did not open as scheduled on December 1. Local officials said the postponement was necessary to protect those involved from discrimination.
Gay sex was criminalized in China until 1997, and homosexuality was classified as a mental illness until 2001.
A report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and China's ministry of health found sexual transmission accounts for more than 70% of all newly detected HIV cases in China. Sexual transmission among gay men accounts for 32% of all new cases.
Discrimination inhibits safer-sex practices, says Zhao Jinkou, senior adviser with the Beijing office of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "When sexual activity is hurried and furtive, it's hard to negotiate condom use with partners."
Professor Zhang Beichuan, an expert on HIV prevention and homosexuality at Qingdao University, estimates China's gay population at 30 million. A survey Zhang conducted of 1,259 gays found 62% had not disclosed their sexual orientation at work for fear of retribution.
Gays are also under tremendous pressure to get married and have children. According to a Chinese saying, having no child is the biggest disrespect to a man's parents.
Because gay men's relationships are neither encouraged nor protected, Zhang says, they are less stable and the men face greater chance of HIV transmission.