Homosexual behavior has been viewed as a sin or a disease for countless ages all throughout the world, including China. And so when the first state-funded gay bar in Dali, Yunnan Province, southwest China was shut down a day before its opening due to a clinical outbreak of homophobia, it came as no surprise.
Although gay bars have been operating in China for over 15 years, the stigma associated with homosexuality still exists, making it exceptionally hard for gays to come out the closet.
What’s worse is that Yunnan province hosts over 23% of China’s HIV/AIDS infected population, despite only figuring into 3.5% of China’s total population. And according to Health Minister Chen Zhu, 32% of all HIV victims in China were infected from homosexual male-on-male sex.
It was this fact that inspired local AIDs Doctor and bar-manager Zhang Jiambo to seek over 120,000 yuan from the Dali Prefecuture government to transform his gay bar into an educational “space where gay men could meet and socialize and also receive education on how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
China Daily quoted Zhang as saying, “As a long-term medical worker in HIV/AIDS prevention and control, I know how hard it is for us to reach these groups to promote self-protection messages like safe sex.”
The bar was due to officially launch on December 1st, better known as World AIDS Day; but was prematurely closed instead due to an extremely negative reaction from the general public.
Extensive coverage of the bar prior to its opening by local news agencies — including Beijing News, China Central Television, and China Daily — was mainly to blame, as it put fear into the hearts of potential attendees and volunteer workers, provoking many to not even show up, lest they be publicly outed.
In fact, some were already outed, even if they weren’t gay. The bar had opened up for trial operation in November, allowing Zhang’s AIDS volunteers an opportunity to try out their rehabilitative methods. Many had their pictures and names later posted in the news.
One volunteer chronicled his experience: “When the CCTV journalists came to interview us, and report on the day-to-day work of AIDS volunteers, they did not let us see their report, they also did not seek or get the consent of the people they interviewed.”
The result was that many of the volunteers found themselves as targets of homophobia, including being mocked and even repudiated by their peers.
All of the media frenzy eventually led Zhang to cancel the grand opening. He explains, “They (gay men) refused to show up at the opening for fear of media exposure and potential discrimination. Had I known it, I would not have told the media.”