China's first government-funded gay bar finally opened its doors over the weekend after almost three weeks of delays caused by intense media speculation.
About 60 people turned up for a simple opening ceremony on Saturday night, almost filling the venue in Dali, Yunnan province.
The bar was scheduled to open on Dec 1, World AIDS Day, but it was abandoned over concerns about privacy for volunteers and customers.
"The plan was delayed because gay men were worried about potential media exposure and discrimination," founder Zhang Jianbo was quoted by Beijing Youth Daily as saying yesterday. "Now we are open, the media attention should fade away."
The report said that of the 60 guests, most were homosexuals, and that information about the opening was transmitted by word of mouth only.
"We didn't want any publicity on launch night. We didn't even publicize the opening on websites for homosexuals," said Zhang, who is also director of dermatology at the Dali Municipal No 2 People's Hospital and founder of the Dali HIV/AIDS Prevention and Health Association.
The nightspot, partially funded by Dali health bureau and two nongovernmental organizations, is aimed at reaching out to gay men, who are among the most at risk for HIV.
Experts estimate that about 30 million homosexuals are in China, including 20 million gay men.
Sexual transmission is now the major cause of HIV infection, accounting for more than 70 percent of all new cases, according to Minister of Health Chen Zhu.
The ministry and the NGO UNAIDS estimate China will have 560,000 to 920,000 living HIV carriers by the end of this year.
"The bar will not just be open to homosexuals; everyone can have a drink here. The public will be more tolerant to homosexuals if they can better understand them by visiting the bar," said Zhang.
The venue is being run as a nonprofit concern, he said, and offers soft drinks and beer cheaper than most local bars, just 5 yuan (73 cents) and 8 yuan respectively.
For the bar's opening night, 10 volunteers staged a play that included information on HIV prevention. Customers also received free condoms.
Zhang said volunteers, who will be on hand to offer emotional and medical guidance to gay men and women, were bound by regulations preventing them from breaching the privacy of patrons.
"I am very happy to know that the bar is finally open as it shows the government and general public are ready to give us more understanding," said a 19-year-old gay university student from Shanghai.
（中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Dan Chinoy is a reporter and editor for the China Daily's website. A graduate of Columbia University, he grew up in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Dan has experience in Hillary Clinton's Senate Office in Washington, and Fortune Magazine in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang. Dan speaks Chinese, but not as well as he should.