Posted by Kent Klindera on 8 October 2010
We've just left the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, after spending two days with colleagues at the Chengdu Gay Care Centre. The group serves as the secretariat for the China Tongle MSM Forum, an amfAR-supported partner consisting of more than 70 community-based gay men's groups throughout the country.
Fear—from our arrival in China I've noted the damaging effect fear has on efforts to reduce the impact of HIV among MSM. Homophobia permeates society here and creates great challenges for amfAR's partners. Homophobia and the fear that underlies it force gay men (and lesbians) to marry opposite-sex partners and then develop shadow relationships with same-sex partners. Fear of being found out makes gay men especially easy victims for extortion—some men blackmail wealthier gay men, threatening to "out" them and thus ruin their careers or bring shame to their family.
amfAR's project involves supporting a lawyers collective that works with six community-based organization, helping gay men understand that they actually do have rights, and that laws exist that can be used to end extortion. This may not seem to be directly HIV-related, but providing condoms and lubricant only goes so far. Gay men need to have the motivation to use condoms, and freedom from fear is a great motivator. Clearly, this particular project is helping to create hope!
We also spent many hours chatting with younger gay men. While they are still struggling with identity issues, they don't seem to feel as much pressure to deny their feelings and marry a woman. However, some young men say that gay male relationships are not stable and cannot last—because they are men, they say, and that is how they are! Still, these young men are motivated to fight for their rights in a country where rights can be fragile. They complain that their government is not responsive and that many major donors are complicit in not being responsive or supporting NGOs. They walk a fine line, challenging government policy in strategic ways and testing the limits of their freedom to criticize government policy and fight for their rights. I'm proud to be part of amfAR's support for these guys—here, we are really helping shine a "light on their rights," as this year's World AIDS Day campaign urges.