Gays coming out of the bamboo closet

The spread of the Internet and fear of the AIDS epidemic prompt China to embrace a new openness toward gay lifestyles.

Published January 26, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Jan. 26, 2000

While China still brutally suppresses religious groups and
Tibetan minorities, its tolerance for sexual self-expression is
surprisingly enlightened. According to the Washington Post,
an estimated 40 million to 50 million homosexuals in China are celebrating a newfound openness that includes
Beijing gay bars, a national AIDS hotline and a host of bestselling gay books and magazines.

These same-sex liberties are emerging after dour decades of persecution.
Many who peeked out from the bamboo closet in the past were incarcerated in
mental institutions, where they endured electric shocks as a "cure." In
1997, sodomy was finally decriminalized and today an attitude of acceptance
is blossoming in Chinese metropolises.

Is China more queer-friendly than the United States? Yes and no. "We
don't see gays beaten to death in our country because of their sexuality,"
claims Zhang Beichuan, publisher of the gay magazine Friends, which
promotes safe sex. "At the same time, we don't have gay and lesbian
parades." This attitude contrasts strongly with the horrors and privileges
of the United States, where Matthew Shephard's crucifixion and bare-buttocked gay pride marchers exist simultaneously.

Gay and lesbian happiness in China has been boosted by
Web sites, especially Asia
Friend Finder,
a personal ad service based in the United States.
Hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian Chinese have moused into this and
other chat rooms in search of girlfriends, boyfriends and a virtual

Why is China rolling out the lavender carpet now? Many Sinologists suspect
that concern regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the answer. Although
Beijing's Health Ministry estimates 400,000 people are afflicted,
true figures are believed to be considerably higher. To educate its 1.2 billion inhabitants about the infectious plague, openness toward
homosexuality is deemed essential.

By Hank Hyena

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

MORE FROM Hank Hyena

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aids Lgbt