China’s first Gay Pride event, organised by Shanghai’s English-speaking expatriates, has been quietly celebrating homosexuality this week with no hint of a parade or advertising hype.
In a country where acceptance of homosexuality is still low, organisers -- foreigners living in China -- have been reluctant to draw official attention.
So “Shanghai Pride” does not include the colourful parade that typifies Gay Pride events in Europe and the US, but is centred around events held in private venues to avoid the need for government permission.
As a result, few Chinese appear to be taking part -- or even to know about the events -- and attendees have been mostly expatriate.
“Even though we have talked about (Shanghai Pride) for a long time, the news published in Chinese about this is only very recent,” said Xing Zhao, a gay man in his thirties.
Homosexuality has long been a taboo subject in China with gay sex decriminalised only in 1997, while homosexual behaviour was officially viewed as a mental disorder until 2001.
Those behind Shanghai Pride hope it will help change prevailing attitudes, no matter how incrementally.
Organised by Shanghai LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered), an association of English-speaking expatriates, Shanghai Pride revolves around film screenings, workshops, exhibitions and charity sales.
Money raised will go to the Hong Kong-based Chi Heng Foundation, which funds education for children orphaned by AIDS in central China.
“We are aware that to develop understanding and acceptance of a non-traditional way of life naturally takes more time than to build skyscrapers,” association spokeswoman Hannah Miller said in a statement.
“We therefore hope that this festival will work positively in that direction.”
The gay Chinese community does not appear convinced the event will inspire greater acceptance of homosexuality.
“I don’t think Shanghai Pride will change people’s perception of homosexual people at once,” said Wang Jin, a 27-year-old Chinese lesbian who has heard of the festival but does not intend to take part.
“But it’s much better that it takes place than not,” she said.
The week-long programme of events -- and the fact that the Shanghai Pride website is not in Chinese -- underscored the domination of expats, said Xing.
“They do not have bad intentions, but this is a very Westernised gay culture and it’s not enough to include Chinese people, despite the fact there are so many Chinese homosexuals in a city like Shanghai.”
Chinese homosexuals had their own life in the city, he said, adding he sometimes goes to gay tea dances, costing 5 yuan (70 cents), where everyone is Chinese.
By contrast, a Shanghai Pride barbecue on Saturday will cost 150 yuan -- a significant sum for Chinese.
Nevertheless, Shanghai -- a vibrant metropolis of around 20 million -- is certainly more tolerant of its gay community than most Chinese cities, with bars that attract an exclusively gay clientele.
The official China Daily newspaper estimates there are 30 million homosexuals in China, or less than three percent of the population.