China to stage first gay pageant: organisers

A gay pageant is to be held for the first time in China, where homosexuality remains largely hidden, to crown the man who will represent the Asian nation at a worldwide contest, organisers said Thursday.

The Mr Gay China pageant will take place on January 15 at a club in Beijing, ahead of the Mr Gay World competition in Norway in February, Ben Zhang, founder of gay media and PR website gayographic.org, told AFP.

"There will be sportswear and swimsuit segments, a Q&A session, and a panel of judges will select the winner based on overall performance," Zhang said.

The pageant will be open to anyone who lives in China - local or foreign, and contestants can apply online, he said.

"Being homosexual, in general we get a lot of discrimination everywhere, so we are not going to discriminate against any contestants," Zhang said.

Homosexuality is still a sensitive issue in China - where it was officially considered a mental illness until 2001 - and Zhang conceded that some contestants might not want to be filmed at the pageant.

But he said the Chinese general public was more tolerant towards homosexuality than that in some other countries he had visited.

"The general population... is more tolerant than the general American population. We don't have this religious taboo to tell us this is wrong or right," he said.

Nevertheless, the Chinese mainstream media will not be invited to the pageant, according to Zhang.

"It's a little risky and if we attract too much attention from the public, maybe it's going to expose us a little too much, and then there will unnecessary difficulties," he said.

Gay men and women in China often find it difficult to come out to their friends and family. One of the reasons lies in the nation's one-child policy, which means parents rely on their only child to marry and to produce grandchildren.

The official China Daily newspaper in 2005 put the number of homosexuals in China at around 30 million, out of a total population of 1.3 billion.

But government departments and academic reports have put the figure at around 15 million, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

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