Coming out in China
CNN Beijing Bureau Chief
BEIJING, China (CNN) – Bar owner Zhang Yi practices the art of mixing cocktails everyday at his On-Off Bar, a place designed for Beijing's homosexual men and women to mix freely.
It is one of the few such spots in China where the government de-listed homosexuality as a mental disorder just last year.
"Through my bar I hope to help gay Chinese find their identities," says Zhang.
Today's society shows more tolerance toward Chinese gay men and lesbians. Homosexuality is no longer considered a crime or a psychiatric illness.
But there are at least three reasons why many are still afraid to come out -- pressures that include the fear of being ostracized, or fired, and the family obligation to get married and have children.
Such pressures compel many gays to live bisexual lives.
"That complicates the AIDS prevention work very much," says Chung To at Chi Heng Foundation in Hong Kong, "... because once the disease is spread, it spreads very quickly to the mainstream society."
Gay groups are raising awareness, through hotlines and the Internet.
"In our chat rooms and bulletin boards, we tell our users not to openly solicit one-night stands or prostitution, not because we discriminate against them, but because it's not safe, " says Nan Feng, a Webmaster at ManCN.net.
ManCN.net is one of the 300 gay Web sites in China which provide news, information and virtual meeting places for gays. Some have found life partners in the Net.
Web sites attacked
But running gay Web sites has its share of grief.
"Some heterosexuals attack our Web site or our server. They keep sending angry emails and viruses," says Xiao Qi, a Webmaster at GZTZ.org.
Still, gay activists stand up against such intimidations, knowing the importance of spreading awareness.
Zhang recalls his search for sexual identity nine years ago --- when he was 19.
"I found a thick medical book and read this little section, which said homosexuality is abnormal and perverse and gays get AIDS. I got very scared," says Zhang.
So scared that he tried to commit suicide. Later, he met other gays in Beijing.
"That made me feel that homosexuality is something perfectly normal . . . There was nothing wrong with me," Zhang said.
Condor Han, the manager of Success Bar, said his relationship with his partner has been going steady for a year, but they face the challenge of keeping a lasting relationship.
"We don't have marriage as a binding institution, so you get jealous and insecure more easily," says Han.
Han told CNN that they had hoped to get married in Hawaii, where they mistakenly understood gay marriage is legal.
"If we were married, these things would probably not happen," Han said.
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