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Gay Bars Bring HIV Awareness Out of Closet
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Nineteen gay venues in Beijing have launched a joint education campaign to help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among their clients.

The venues, mostly bars, will distribute free condoms, display AIDS awareness posters and even promote the safe sex message in dance performances.

Gay men are considered a high-risk group for HIV infection in China, along with intravenous drug users and sex workers, according to the World Health Organization.

Chaoyang Chinese Aids Volunteer Group has been leading a long campaign to promote safe sex among gay men, with mixed results.

"When our volunteers promoted the concept of safe sex in entertainment places, people always showed antipathy to us," Xiao Dong, chief executive of Chaoyang Chinese Aids Volunteer Group, said.

"The managers disliked us because it affected business. But now we have persuaded the owners to join in this campaign and make a united front."

According to the memorandum of understanding, bar owners are responsible for promoting safe sex among their gay clientele in their venues. They have joined the fight against AIDS with medical scientists, volunteers and government officials.

Condom vending machines will be installed in many venues, and trained staff will be offered a financial bonus for promoting the safe sex message.

Statistics from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the number of gay men living with HIV/AIDS has increased to 47,000, double the figure in 2004.

The WHO/UNAIDS estimated that 840,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2004. In a plan released by the State Council early last year, China pledged it would try and control the spread of the virus by keeping that figure below 1.5 million by 2010.

Gay men account for almost 7 percent of the total HIV/AIDS sufferers in the capital city, according to the Beijing CDC.

"As the Internet develops rapidly, people are coming to terms with their sexuality much earlier, and are being more sexually active from a younger age," Xiao said.

"Some HIV-infected men are just 16 years old."

More than half of gay men are believed to have multiple sex partners, and some also have female partners, increasing the risk of the virus spreading among women. This, according to the WHO, accounts for a major reason why gay men are considered a high-risk group.

"I believe gays in China face less discrimination than in the West. Some people think it is just different sexual orientation," one bar owner surnamed Sun, who signed the AIDS education campaign statement, said.

"But this community still faces a lot of trouble and difficulties. The soaring pandemic is our greatest enemy."

(China Daily June 13, 2007)

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