The first national free hotline in China to offer advice to gays on a range of subjects was launched Monday.
Shanghai and Guangzhou launched a homosexual hotline (800-988-1929) providing services including psychological, legal and HIV/AIDS consultation, the Information Times reported. Homosexual volunteers in Guangzhou and Shanghai have joined forces to get the initiative off the ground.
Hong Kong-based Chi Heng Foundation, the service sponsor, had previously operated a local hotline in Shanghai providing psychological and legal assistance and another in Guangzhou to support those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
The new nationwide hotline, 800-988-1929, is manned several hours every day by volunteers in the two cities.
It was set up because previous localized services were overloaded with calls from people all over the mainland and even overseas.
"In the mainland being homosexual is still very difficult," Hu Zhijun, a worker at the foundation, told China Daily yesterday.
"Under pressure from families and society, most homosexual people dare not reveal their sexual orientation and have to get married to someone of the opposite sex," he commented. Many gay people need emotional support but also advice on their rights, Hu added.
The hotline has 13 gay volunteers working as consultants. Three started in Shanghai on Monday and 10 in Guangzhou yesterday. They all have full-time jobs and work for the hotline on a volunteer basis.
The majority of them have bachelor or master's degrees in medicine, psychology, law or sociology. They have all been given specific training for their roles. "I expect more qualified people to join our hotline service when it becomes better known," said director Xiao Dong.
"Most of the calls we have had so far are from people who complain of social stigma and ignorance or from those who don't understand homosexuality," Hu said.
The hotline is manned from during the week, from on Saturday and on Sunday. An answering machine is left on at all other times.
The number of homosexuals in the mainland is put at 48 million according to a recent survey by Li Yinhe, a pioneering sociologist on sexual issues.
Li proposed to the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference earlier this year that homosexual marriage be legalized. Although the proposal was turned down because not enough signatures had been collected to back the proposal, it attracted attention across the country.
"There are not enough services for gay people in Chinese mainland especially after the only gay consultation hotline in Shanghai closed last year," said Rager Shen, an officer of the Chi Heng Foundation, who is in charge of the Shanghai branch. "That's why we launched the hotline.” He added that volunteers were carefully selected.
"The priority for a volunteer is that they should be gay -- no matter whether male or female," said Shen. "They can better understand the callers' feelings and callers also prefer to speak to people who have a similar sexual background."
Organizers said strict measures were taken to protect the privacy and identity of callers.