BEIJING — China's first government-backed gay bar has opened after a three-week delay sparked by intense media attention, a charity said Sunday, in a nation where homosexuality is still a sensitive subject.
The bar opened Saturday in a low-key fashion in the tourist town of Dali in the southwestern province of Yunnan, Zhang Jianbo, founder of the Dali HIV/AIDS prevention and health association, the organisation behind the initiative, told AFP.
The venue aims to provide a place where homosexuals can meet in a relaxed atmosphere and get information about HIV/AIDS prevention.
It was due to open on World AIDS Day on December 1 with the support of the local government, which invested 120,000 yuan (17,600 dollars) in Zhang's charity, but volunteers were put off by the intense media attention sparked by the news.
"Our volunteers decided that the media was not paying so much attention, so they finally decided to open the bar," Zhang said.
Homosexuality in China -- where it was officially considered a mental illness until 2001 -- is still an extremely sensitive issue.
Gay men and women find it difficult to come out to their friends and family. One of the reasons lies in the nation's one-child policy, which makes parents rely on their only child to marry and produce grandchildren.
China's health ministry warned earlier this month that homosexual transmission of HIV/AIDS was gaining pace.
Zhang, a doctor at a hospital in Dali, told AFP in an earlier interview that raising awareness of the disease among the gay community was "extremely important".
The official China Daily newspaper said in 2005 that the number of homosexuals in China came to around 30 million, although it conceded few were willing to acknowledge their sexuality.
Statements from government departments and academic reports have put the figure at approximately 15 million, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
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