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CHINA - Dec 24, 2005

On Dec 16, a quiet opening for the 1st Beijing Gay and Lesbian Culture Festival had to be called off because the venue failed to meet proper safety standards.

Originally planned for the end of September, Beijing's first ever pride festival had already been behind schedule as organizers tried to find the right venue. The revised planned opening at On/Off gay bar, near the Workers' Stadium, had to be cancelled.

“They didn’t have permission to hold this event,” a police official told Reuters. Police swarmed around the bar even before the festival began. "This bar is temporarily closed for review," they announced.

Consisting of contemporary art exhibitions, stage performances, a cultural forum and student campus activities, the three-day festival was planned to run from December 16 to 18 under the slogan "Say Goodbye Together to the Mosaic Age of Homosexuality".

"There is no reason for the police to stop us. We are doing nothing to disturb social stability," said one man who was turned away along with his father whom he had brought along to the event in hopes of creating a better understanding of homosexuality.

Sponsored by international foundations, the festival was managed by a committee and relied heavily on volunteers and homosexual organizations across the country. Although receiving wide and earnest attention from home and abroad, the organizers, knowing the sensitivity of the festival theme, had kept their operation low profile. They decided to inform the press only a few days ahead of the festival.

One attendee, Liu Chunxiao, travelled to Beijing from Inner Mongolia along with his partner to attend the festival.

"The attitude towards homosexuality in China is to keep one eye open and another closed on the issue," said film director Cui Zi'en. "An open and far-sighted society should observe such cultures and tolerate and embrace homosexuality. It is an important yardstick to measure the openness of a society," he emphasized.

Li Yinhe,one of China's most renowned sexologists, posted her opening speech on the festival's website. In it she pointed out that homosexuality is one of the basic behavioural modes existing in various civilizations throughout world history, no matter whether in a highly-developed industrialized societies or in primitive tribes.

"Homosexual people should be entitled to the same rights as any citizen of the People's Republic of China to freely choose their sexual partner and to get married, which, instead of being deprived and discriminated against, should receive protection. I believe that the successful presentation of a homosexuality festival will help promote public awareness as well as self understanding among the homosexual people, and the prosperous development of homosexuality as a sub-culture in China," Li wrote at the end of her speech.

Official statistics list approximately 30 million homosexuals in China, although the state-run Xinhua news agency acknowledges that few Chinese will openly say if they are gay or lesbian.


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