Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Pageant as Progress (?)

It is not often, indeed this is likely to be the only time, you'll see this blog praising a beauty pageant, but I will make an exception for this one.

Yes there is a swimwear round and yes there is a talent round. It is the location and the competitors that make this newsworthy rather than the event itself. The location is Beijing, this Friday, the winner will be crowned Mr Gay China.

In a country where being gay was illegal until 1997 and still classed as a mental illness until 2001, this is a major step forward. One of the contestants from Inner Mongolia Emilio Liu said:

"We are intelligent, we're professionals, we're gorgeous – and we're gay. I want the audience to know there are a whole bunch of people like us living in China. It's a wonderful life and it's not hidden any more."

The winner will be picked for his ability to represent gay issues as well as his skills, personality and looks before heading to Norway for next month's finals of Worldwide Mr Gay.

However, there was outcry only last month when Chinese authorities shut down 10 gay websites, so while there is public acceptance on one hand there is also restraint on the other. Indeed many of the contestants in Mr Gay China are reluctant to give their full name, all are from white collar jobs, most have studied or worked abroad and some talk about the stereotyping of gay men being weak or HIV carriers in their country.

One contestant says that the pressures faced by the Chinese gay community are different, not greater, than elsewhere. There is no religious condemnation and anti-gay violence is rare. But it is still a traditional society where the only child, if he is male is expected to marry. However, while we have this pageant official acceptance remains at a variable level in China, Shanghai Pride for example remains a low key event without banners or a parade and indeed the authorities banned some events. Similarly the Mr Gay China event is to remain low key as organisers have not invited mainstream Chinese language media.

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