A local Internet forum for gay people -- the first to be sponsored by a government agency, is attracting an increasing number of browsers since its services were publicized just over a week ago.
The website, www.cystd.com.cn, provides a platform for homosexuals to share their experiences and to raise awareness of AIDS prevention.
"Forum for Comrades" -- named after the new slang term for gay which developed because the word for homosexual and comrade share a Chinese character -- had received 223 postings on its notice board as of Monday, a sevenfold increase since it was publicized in the media on Aug.13.
The forum run by the Disease Prevention and Control Center of Chaoyang District of Beijing went into operation more than two months ago, but without any publicity it failed to attract many web surfers. "We actually launched the forum in June, but didn't publicize the issue because we feared it might spur debate among the public," said Fu Qingyuan, an official in charge of the website.
"I'm a comrade and I'm now at the age of marriage. Because of who I am I haven't found a girlfriend," says one comrade who gave his name as Sunboyhands.
"My parents have pressed me to get married. To escape the pressure to marry, I haven't gone home for three years," Sunboyhands says. "Sometimes, I feel tired because I can't tell my parents I'm a gay."
Although the public's understanding of homosexuality has greatly increased in more enlightened centers of the country in recent years, gays remain very much stigmatized in China.
Sunboyhands' posting attracted comments from seven other "comrades" who shared similar feelings and experiences.
"I thought I was the only 'comrade' in the world to live such a life, but that's not the case. 'Comrades' are common in today's society," said another gay man who gave his name as "Call for Love". "I've found the website only today, and I hope the government and society will understand us: we 'comrades' are as good, faithful and law-abiding as anyone else."
The forum has three chat rooms: two for same-sex lovers to share their emotions and experiences; and the other to exchange views on the prevention of AIDS between "comrades" and medical experts.
There are many private websites and blogs in China dedicated to issues relating to the gay community.
The forum's administrator, Xiao Dong, who is gay and an advocate for gay rights, said the site allows "comrades" to communicate with medical staff from the disease prevention center.
"The forum is designed to allow health advisors hear this group's actual needs, enhance communication and prevent the spread of AIDS," Fu said, "We delete messages that offer prostitution services or contain phonographic pictures."
Those who want to find a partner via the forum are not encouraged and their postings are also deleted, said Xiao Dong.
"They have many other places to express their feelings and find partners, such as the 'comarade' websites and blogs." Xiao added. "The forum is mainly about the prevention of AIDS among the 'comrades'."
Fu's website also publishes domestic and international developments on AIDS diagnosis and treatments and has an online question and answer session hosted by medical workers.
China has between 5 million and 10 million gay men, according to official figures published in 2004, the most recent data available. The number of lesbians was not published, but Zhang Beichuan, a Qingdao University professor and a renowned expert on homosexual studies, estimated there are around 10 million.
(Xinhua News Agency August 22, 2006)