Gay social groups attend gatherings in Shanghai, which has witnessed an increasingly open gay subculture. Photo provided to China Daily
Shanghai Pride is preparing for its biggest annual bash in June, four months after the largest gay club in Asia, 1,500-capacity Icon, opened in the city around Valentine's Day. The former French Concession also recently hosted an LGBT speed dating event, indicating an increasingly open gay subculture in the city.
"People in Shanghai are a lot more tolerant than we give them credit for," says Malaysian-Chinese Charlene Liu, one of the city's Pride organizers. "Malaysia and Singapore feel more closeted, even though they are more developed."
She expects 4,000 people to turn up for 10 days of activities, double the number that supported its launch in 2009, when drag shows and "hot body" contests at expat-friendly pubs were the order of the day.
This year's program is more salubrious. As well as NGO workshops and panel discussions aimed at reaching Chinese policymakers, a 6-kilometer run near Jing'an Temple, a ladies' night and a gay movie festival at local consulates have all been penciled in.
"It's getting bigger. There are also a lot more gay social groups now that focus on nondrinking and non-partying," says Liu.
Like the recent flowering of gay social groups including Open Doors Shanghai (mostly for gay men, in English) and tontou.com (more for lesbians, Chinese-language), Pride's healthier program is a welcome antidote to the explosion of gay meet-up apps, some say.
The prevailing cloak of secrecy in China and the rise of Grinder, Scruff, Tinder, Gayromeo.com and Gaydar.com have not so much brought the community out of the shadows as made the shadows easier to get lost in, says Shanghai's Shane Q.
"Social media is basically just for sex, not making friends," says the 21-year-old.
Rampant poverty, ignorance of safe sex and a dominant bar-scene mentality pose a health risk beyond the gay community, according to 28 year-old Anhui native Dwayne Wang.