17 May 2006

news around the world 17-may-06

An estimated 150 people attended the first ever Spring Fling at Disneyland Hong Kong last Saturday and 600 at Floatilla, the territory's largest party on water. In China, the Chi Heng Foundation together with volunteers in Guangzhou and Shanghai have launched the country's first national gay hotline.

Pride in the making: Hong Kong's Spring Fling/ Floatilla a success
An estimated 150 people attended the first ever Spring Fling at Disneyland Hong Kong last Saturday. Co-organised by Fridae, the organisers of the Floatilla party and other Hong Kong gay groups, the event is patterned after Gay Days in Tokyo, Anaheim and Orlando which started 15 years ago.

Top 2 pics: visitors in red t-shirts at Disneyland and snaps from Floatilla on Sunday. For more photos, please visit Fotos@Fridae.
Although Spring Fling attendees were encouraged to wear red in a bid to increase gay visibility and to identify themselves among other park visitors, some attendees instead opted for pink and other colours making it hard for organisers to gauge the number of gay attendees. When asked why, some expressed that they were not "bold" enough to be publicly identified as being a "Spring Fling" participant.

Other attendees Fridae spoke to however thought that the event was off to a good start given the visibility of those in red and are optimistic that should the event happen next year, it would attract a higher number of participants who would also be more open to wearing red.

Visitors to Disneyland also reported that not only did they greet fellow visitors in red, the park's entertainers in the live shows including The Lion King to the Street Parade were especially fantastic for wishing groups of red shirted visitors 'Happy Gay Day.'

Sharkbait, the organiser of Floatilla, told Fridae: "That acknowledgement made the day a thrill. I would love to see this event nurture and grow. Pair Gay Day at Disney with Floatilla, and Hong Kong will have ourselves a decent pride weekend!

"Disney was a blast. Though I have no idea of the real number, there was definitely a presence."

Floatilla, which was also being held for the first time, attracted some 600 attendees in 15 boats including a "straight" boat, the Mothership, Dim Sum Magazine, Demon Love Boat, Drag On Boat, lesbian boat Les Pesches, Fridae while party organisers HX Production and Cocktail, and gay networking group Fruits in Suits each chartered two boats for the event.

Partygoers were not only wowed by the scenery at Lamma Island's Turtle Bay but also by the spectacular sight of two rows of some four to six boats lined up facing each other while the others anchored nearby.

Paul, a Hong-Kong based expat who has been living in the territory for three years, told Fridae that Floatilla was one of the best gay events he had attended in Asia "because it was just not another party in a nightclub."

"For me the most memorable part was just seeing all the boats lined upů a great show of pride in public-something that you seldom see in Asia."

The Scot also suggested making the party a pride event which could also be a HK's unique selling point for Hong Kong.

Another attendee Julien, who travelled from Japan for the party, said that he couldn't stop dancing - thanks to DJ Christof for the pumping beats from the Mothership - and would not only come for the one-of-a-kind event in Asia but also bring more people should another one be held at the end of summer.

Those looking forward to another Floatilla end of this summer would however be disappointed as the organiser Sharkbait, told Fridae that while his original intent was to have the parties twice a year, the next Floatilla would likely be held next Summer.

Referring to the not for profit and community driven event, he said: "I'm totally thrilled with Floatilla. It is exactly what I had envisioned - but better.

"What made it work was the sense of Pride as all these groups were represented. This event really was about all the different groups of people coming togetherů the club boys, the gay magazines, the older guys, the lesbians, business groups, and even the Asian bear crowd... how perfect is that?

"So I'd like to keep that feeling, I'd like to keep it special. And as it takes so much work and coordination, once a year is just right."

For more Floatilla photos, please visit Fotos@Fridae.
First national free hotline to help gays in China
The first national free hotline offering advice to gay people has been launched on Monday.

Sponsored by Hong Kong-based Chi Heng Foundation and operated by volunteers in Guangzhou and Shanghai, the 800-988-1929, hotline will provide advice on psychological problems, legal issues and HIV/AIDS for several hours daily. The hotline has 13 volunteers - three in Shanghai and in Guangzhou - who are not only gay but trained in their respective fields, working as consultants.

Rager Shen, an officer of Chi Heng Foundation, who is in charge of the Shanghai branch, said that volunteers were carefully selected. "The priority for a volunteer is that they should be gay, no matter whether male or female."

"They can better understand the callers' feelings; callers also prefer to speak to people who have a similar sexual background."

The Chi Heng Foundation has previously operated a localised hotline in Shanghai, to provide psychological and legal help, and another hotline in Guangzhou to support people with HIV/AIDS but had found that the lines were frequently overloaded with calls from people all over the mainland and even overseas, who were charged long-distance rates.

"On the mainland, being homosexual is still very hard," Hu Zhijun, a worker at the foundation was quoted as saying.

"Under pressure from families and society, most homosexual people dare not reveal their sexual orientation and have to get married to someone of the opposite sex."

Many gay people need not only emotional support, but also advice on their specific rights, Hu told the China Daily.

The number of homosexual people on the mainland is about 48 million, according to a recent survey by Li Yinhe, a pioneering sociologist on sexual issues.

The hotline is manned from 7-9 pm during the week, and then from 4-9 pm on Saturday and 3-6 pm on Sunday. An answering phone is left on at all other times. Organisers said strict measures would be taken to protect the privacy and identity of callers.
TREAT Asia will coordinate MSM interventions network in Asia

Press release issued by TREAT Asia (April 27, 2006)

TREAT Asia, a program of amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has signed a contract with Family Health International's Asia Regional Program (FHI/ARP) to serve as the Regional Coordination Secretariat for a new network of HIV programs for men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. The Secretariat will initially be funded by the United States Agency for International Development's Regional Development Mission/Asia (USAID RDM/A) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Global AIDS Program (CDC/GAP).

The network consists of more than 80 governmental and non-governmental organizations working to prevent and treat HIV among MSM in six countries: Cambodia, China (Yunnan and Guangxi provinces), Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Countries in this region have seen a rise in the number of HIV-positive MSM in recent years. For instance, surveys in Thailand show that in 2003 HIV prevalence among MSM in Bangkok was 17.3%. By 2005, that figure had risen to 28.3%, an alarming increase of 64%. Based on other research undertaken in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, the estimated range of HIV prevalence in MSM is between 6 and 30%.

"Although many people in Southeast Asia are especially vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, no single population has experienced as steep a rise in infection rates as men who have sex with men," said Kevin Frost, who directs the TREAT Asia program. "Risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, commercial sex and injection drug use, tell us that targeted outreach to this population is vital to reducing the number of new infections and improving treatment for those already living with HIV and AIDS."

Two meetings of MSM program implementers and donors convened in 2005 by USAID, FHI, and CDC brought together representatives from Ministries of Public Health, NGOs, and United Nation's organizations. These meetings resulted in the development of a conceptual framework for MSM interventions and a "Two-Year Vision Plan" laying out priority strategies to decrease HIV infection rates and mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS on MSM and their families. The goal of the Secretariat is to strengthen the capacity of groups to develop and advocate for programs, services and policies needed to implement the conceptual framework and the two-year plan. The Secretariat will provide three types of support to Network organizations: 1) operational and administrative support; 2) technical support; and 3) network development.

"We are proud to be given the responsibility of coordinating this effort," said Jerome J. Radwin, amfAR's Chief Executive Officer. "Men who have sex with men are a stigmatized population in Asia, too often falling under the radar of prevention, care and support services. AIDS will continue to expand in Asia until there are coordinated and effective programs targeting prevention among MSM."

The Secretariat will be housed at the Bangkok regional office of TREAT Asia. Over the last five years, TREAT Asia has been instrumental in developing programs to address AIDS in Asia, creating the first-ever HIV Observational Database in the region and establishing two programs focused on strengthening civil society. It is particularly well suited for the network development role, having developed the TREAT Asia network of 28 clinical sites.