China’s first gay chat show goes live on the Internet

Source: Reuters
5 April 2007

China’s first gay chat show goes live on the Internet

Beijing (Reuters) – For singer and bar-owner, Qiao Qiao, talking about her sexuality live on an Internet broadcast accessible to millions of people was easier than telling her parents that she was a lesbian.

“My mother was very supportive,” she said on Thursday, as cameras rolled in a small studio in northwest Beijing. “But my father still has not accepted it. He said I was young and would feel different when I was older … But he is still saying that even though I’m now in my thirties,” she said. Qiao Qiao was the first guest on “Tongxing Xinglian”, China’s first gay chat show, an interactive online forum hosted by gay presenters and accessible to more than 130 million Internet users across the country.

With the title a loose play on words of a Chinese idiom “people with the same afflictions sympathise with each other”, the weekly 12-episode show, produced by PhoenixTV.com, aims to open minds in a country where homosexuality was listed as a mental illness until 2001.

“Of course, not everyone will be able to accept this show,” producer Gang Gang, told Reuters after the Web cast. “But 90 percent of people think we’re doing meaningful work here,” Gang said, who also appeared on the show. In the first one-hour instalment, Gang joined Qiao Qiao, the show’s host Didier Zheng, and Shu Qi, a cross-dressing social worker, to talk about sex, identity and discrimination. Subsequent episodes will feature celebrity actors, lawyers, teachers and psychologists, Gang said.

DISCRIMINATION

Since Mao Zedong rule, when homosexuals were persecuted and imprisoned, China has slowly become more accepting, opening support hotlines for gays and lesbians, and offering free tests for sexually transmitted diseases in recent years.

“China is more and more open. In big cities, there are many gay groups participating in all sorts of activities,” Gang said. “Of course, discrimination remains … The kind of pressure on gay people in China is different to the pressure in Western countries,” Gang said. “In the West, it is usually pressure brought by religion. In China, it is usually family and neighbours and peers.” Gang, who said his parents would be “very angry” if they knew he was producing “Tongxing”, said the show’s content would be modified according to viewer’s reactions.

“Of course, it will not change some people’s attitudes toward homosexuality, but we hope that it might teach them not to take issue with their family members’ choices.” In episode one, this meant confronting misconceptions, ignorance and, at times, ugly prejudice conveyed in Internet posts on discussion boards and text messages. Qiao Qiao heatedly responded to an anonymous Internet poster who said gay people were “dirty” and “freaks.”

“When you say such a thing it attacks people, it attacks me,” she said. While frank and open, the panelists were more polite than confronting, steering conversation toward relationships and identity, rather than sex. “As a woman who enjoys looking at beautiful women on the street, does that mean I’m homosexual?” was typical of the questions posted by Internet users. Having promised experts and celebrity guests, Zou Ming, PhoenixTV.com vice president, said the show’s content would remain mainstream and unlikely to shock.

“Online we can be a bit freer than on television,” Zhou said. “But we don’t want our viewers to think gay people are abnormal. This would cause a backlash and we don’t want that.”

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