China’s official Xinhua news agency has reported that the first government-backed gay bar in China opened on Saturday with little fanfare following a three-week delay due to intense media interest.
More than 60 people, mostly gay men, and 10 volunteer attended the opening ceremony at the bar located in the city of Dali in southwestern Yunnan Province.
The bar was originally scheduled to open on December 1, World AIDS Day but was delayed as the bar's owner Zhang Jianbo told Xinhua he wanted to protect the privacy of the volunteers and customers after intensive media coverage.
The 36-year-old owner is also director of the Dermatological Department of the Dali Municipal No. 2 People's Hospital and founder of the Dali HIV/AIDS Prevention and Health Association, a non-governmental organisation.
Volunteers from HIV/AIDS related NGOs will be stationed at the bar to provide workshops and safer sex material to educate gay men about HIV/AIDS.
Zhang was quoted as saying that the funds for opening the bar mainly came from the Dali HIV/AIDS Prevention and Health Association, and two international NGOs. The Beijing Youth Newspaper reported that half of the 120,000 yuan (US$17,650) allocated by the Dali Municipal Health Bureau to the No 2 hospital this year for AIDS prevention programmes was used to set up the bar.
Health Minister Chen Zhu told the media that sex among gay and bisexual men accounted for 32 percent of the total HIV/AIDS transmission in China.
According to Xinhua, a total of 319,877 people in China had been registered HIV positive, including 102,323 AIDS patients and 49,845 deaths, as of October 31, according to statistics released on a national AIDS control meeting. But the actual numbers could be much higher. The health ministry and the UNAIDS estimate that China will have 560,000 to 920,000 living HIV carriers, with 97,000 to 112,000 AIDS patients by the end of 2009.
The minimum charge at the bar is a bottle of Coca Cola at 5 yuan (US$0.70). The bar is located near the Dali Hotel in Xiaguan Town and will open daily from 3 pm to midnight.