Photo: Ray Ally
Last week Shanghai held the first ever Gay pride event in China. Compared to similar events around the world it was by all accounts a very low-key affair and almost went by unnoticed by the general public.
ShanghaiPRIDE was a week long event organised by a local expatriate LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) association. It was pretty much a private affair, of art exhibitions, talks and film screenings, as the authorities discouraged public parties and showy parades.
The government has a hands-off approach sometimes called the Triple No Policy: no approval, no disapproval, and no promotion. As the first ever event like this in China the organisers planned a more conservative event to not fall foul of the ambiguous law.
Gay sex was decriminalised in 1997, but homosexuality remained a mental disorder until 2001, when the Chinese Psychiatric Association changed its classification. Despite this it is still a taboo subject to be openly gay for most of the estimated 30 million gays in China.
Social acceptance of being gay is more acceptable in cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing, which are more open and tolerant. However even in these places the gay scene of clubs and bars is very much underground if generally known.
In Beijing, Destination is the most famous and well-known gay nightclub. It is on Gongti Xi Lu, often called Club Street. But it is located in a darker, more low-key place than where the bright neon lights of the super clubs like Babyface and Tango can be found. At weekends it draws a mixed crowd of mostly gay, but also gay friendly people who like to party.
Though attitudes to homosexuality are slowing changing in China, there is still a long way to go before Beijing becomes a gay friendly destination in Asia, like Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok. ShanghaiPRIDE is a step in the right direction and one foot out of the closet for China’s gay community.