The Police have shut down what would have been China’s first gay pageant just an hour before it was to start Friday, the event’s organizer said.
The Mr. Gay China pageant, featuring a fashion show and a host in drag, was set to take place in an upscale nightclub in Beijing, but police arrived and said it could not take place, Ben Zhang said.
“They said the content, meaning homosexuality, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you did not do things according to procedures,” Zhang said.
He said police told him he needed official approval for events that included performances, in this case a stage show.
Chinese police frequently cite procedural reasons for closing down gatherings deemed politically sensitive, and authorities have harassed gays in the past. Homosexuality remains a sensitive topic and gays struggle to be accepted by mainstream society.
“I feel really sad. This was going to be a very good event to show a positive image of gay people,” said Wei Xiaogang, a judge at the event and host of Queer Comrades, a popular Internet talk-show on gay issues.
Organizers and contestants said they were not surprised the show was canceled, though the order came quite suddenly.
“Yesterday we were here rehearsing until after midnight and there were no problems and no one came to give us any kind of warning,” said contestant Emilio Liu, 26.
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The Mr. Gay China pageant had attracted a lot of media attention and even the normally staid state-run media reported on the event this week. More than 50 journalists were at the club when Zhang announced the pageant was canceled. Guests trickled in afterward, with some hugging each other after learning the show was off.
Zhang said earlier he hoped it would mark another step toward greater awareness of homosexuals in a country where gays are frequently discriminated against and ostracized. Eight men were competing for the title and a spot in the Worldwide Mr. Gay pageant, to be held next month in Oslo, Norway.
Organizers still planned to send someone to Oslo and would probably ask the pageant judges to choose a contestant, organizer Ryan Dutcher said.
Gay rights in China have come a long way since the years just after the 1949 communist revolution when homosexuality was considered a disease from the decadent West and feudal societies, and gay people were persecuted. Sodomy was decriminalized in 1997, and homosexuality was finally removed from the official list of mental disorders in 2001.
While treatment of gays has improved in recent years, many are still reticent to draw attention to their homosexuality, particularly in the workplace.
China is officially atheistic, and without religious reasons for opposing homosexuality, attitudes are slowly shifting among city dwellers from one of intolerance to indifference. Gays living in big cities, like nearly all the men participating in the pageant, say their biggest challenge is dealing with parents and deeply ingrained expectations for them to get married and have children.