Chinese gays, lesbians step out on Valentine's Day

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese gays and lesbians took to the streets on Saturday hoping Saint Valentine’s Day would help them attract support for same-sex marriage in the conservative society.

Same-sex couple Zhang Yi (R) and Hai Bei pose for their wedding photographs at Qianmen street on Valentine's Day in Beijing February 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Thirty people gathered on a street in the Chinese capital, close to Tiananmen Square and its stern portrait of Mao Zedong, to hold mock wedding photo sessions. They drew gasps, smiles and an occasional scowl from passers-by. Organisers said similar events took place in three other cities.

Their goal was to win more acceptance in a nation that has long frowned upon open displays of sexuality. Campaigners gave out roses and a slip of pink paper urging support for same-sex marriage.

Police did not interfere. Same-sex marriage is forbidden in China, where for many homosexuality is abhorrent or unknown.

“A lot of people around me don’t see the gay community, they don’t even know there are any of us around. They think we are very seductive and strange,” said one participant, a student who used the name Dana.

“Through today’s event I want to tell everyone that there are a lot of us around them, they just can’t see us, and that we are the same as everyone else,” she said.

With official attitudes relaxing, cities like Beijing and Shanghai now have small but increasingly confident gay scenes.

Zhang Yi, one of the men who posed for wedding snaps, said: “I think that coming here and taking these wedding photos is for fun and a chance for everyone to come into contact with and understand us. But everything needs time.”

One onlooker, 19-year-old student Cheng Xiaojiao, said the gathering was a brave gesture.

“I see no problem. I already have a lot of friends and acquaintances like them. We shouldn’t judge them, everyone has their own way of life,” she said.

But Jia Junfeng, a legal worker, said: “I personally do not support this kind of marriage because I think it is in conflict with Chinese morality.”