Government-backed Chinese gay bar stays empty

AP News
Posted: Dec 02, 2009 7:45 AM

A new bar in southwestern China aimed at educating gay men about AIDS stayed conspicuously empty during its official opening as potential customers shunned the spotlight, state media said Wednesday.

The bar, which receives government funding from the health bureau in Yunnan province's Dali town, was slated to open Tuesday to mark World AIDS Day, the China Daily reported.

But the intense media attention that greeted the announcement of its opening kept customers away, Zhang Jianbo, the bar's owner and a local AIDS doctor in Dali, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

"They refused to show up at the opening for fear of media exposure and potential discrimination," he said.

China has a growing AIDS problem with an estimated 740,000 HIV infections, the Health Ministry has said. Same-sex transmission accounts for about a third of new HIV infections, while heterosexual transmission has soared to 40 percent of new cases, a recent UNAIDS report said. The disease is also passed through dirty needles shared by drug users.

Zhang, a doctor at the Dali No. 2 People's Hospital, said the goal of the bar is to create a gathering spot where groups at high risk for HIV, particularly gay men, can gather and obtain information on AIDS and prevention.

"As a long-term medical worker in HIV/AIDS prevention and control, I know how hard it is for us to reach these groups to promote self-protection messages like safe sex," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The local health bureau has earmarked about 120,000 yuan ($17,650) for Zhang's operation, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The bar, nestled in a small alley in the tourist town of Dali, opened informally in November, drawing dozens of gay men seeking information about AIDS and a sense of community, Zhang told Xinhua.