Beijing police shut down "Mr. Gay China" pageant

BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing police Friday shut down what organizers had billed as China’s first gay pageant, saying it did not have a license.

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The winner of “Mr. Gay China” was supposed to represent China at a global event to be held in Norwegian capital Oslo next month, which has never before featured a mainland Chinese representative.

“It’s heart-breaking,” said gay rights activist Xiao Gang, who was to have been one of the judges.

“They’ve done this kind of thing before, not giving any explanation, just saying you have not applied. Of course, there is an element of homophobia to this. But there’s nothing political about this event.”

Police on the scene, at an upmarket Beijing bar, declined to comment and took down identities of foreign reporters present.

The forced cancellation took place as Germany’s openly gay foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, was visiting China.

Organizers had hoped the pageant, featuring swimwear contests and a freestyle talent display, would be a milestone event heralding a change in the Chinese society’s traditionally conservative attitude toward homosexuality.

Homosexuality was still classified by the Chinese government as a mental illness until 2001 and gay activists are still regularly harassed by Chinese authorities, though Beijing and Shanghai have thriving gay scenes despite periodic police raids.

“The authorities did not contact us beforehand,” said one of the organizers, Ryan Dutcher, 29, an American resident of Beijing.

“I can’t say that I’m surprised,” he said. “It’s something that’s happened before, so I wouldn’t say it’s a step backwards, but it’s definitely not a step forward.

“The gay community here in the four years that I’ve been in Beijing -- it’s a difference between night and day. It’s much better than it was before. I’m not saying things are going to get worse. Things are only going to get better.”

In recent months China has been stepping up a crackdown on freedom of expression, arresting dissidents and closing websites.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alex Richardson