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In China, LGBT and HIV grassroots movements are growing

Increased awareness is changing what was stigmatized treatment of HIV/AIDS in China. This year the country will host its first AIDS Walk, which will include a trek along the Great Wall.

There are officially 780,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China, but stigma and discrimination means that people are afraid to get tested. Anyone taking an HIV test at an official disease control body must give their ID number.

But international bodies like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are backing grassroots groups like one run by gay man Nan Feng in the sprawling city of Chongqing, which also offers testing as part of its AIDS prevention work.

According to Zhang Beichuan, a Chinese AIDS expert, there now more than 200 such non-governmental groups in China.

Nan launched a website for gays in 1998. Three years later a local newspaper interviewed him on his AIDS-prevention work.

After the interview was published, Nan's colleagues surreptitiously put the full-page newspaper report about him unfolded on his desk.

"The people around me had the common prejudice that all gays have AIDS," he said.

He quit his job and the group starting distributing condoms at gay bars and promoting the website.

Landian, established in the provincial capital of Taiyuan in 2006, has provided free and private HIV tests for more than 450 gay males and their family members since September 2010.

With the help of Landian, volunteer groups were set up in another five cities in the province of Shanxi last year.

The number of volunteers is also growing as the public has become more tolerant to the gay community, according to the group.

Last month, HIV/Aids prevention posters appeared on the streets in Beijing - to the surprise of many. The posters had previously only been seen inside gay bars.

The AIDS Walk first took place in Los Angeles in 1985 to raise awareness of the epidemic and later this year will happen for the first time in China. It is being organized by three non-profit organizations, including the government-backed China Population Welfare Foundation, and has been approved by Chinese authorities.

As well as the support for grassroots gay groups, Global Fund for Women is backing a lesbian group, Lala Alliance, which has grown to have hundreds of members.

The group has organized several activist training camps and published China’s first lesbian oral history.

And in another example of change, last month the first China Rainbow Media Awards were handed out recognizing positive representations of LGBT people in China's mainstream media.

The organizers invited an elderly gay man nicknamed “Old Paris” to present the Special Contribution Award to Dr. Li Yinhe, a well-known sociologist who has spoken out many times on homosexuality and who submitted several proposals to legalize same-sex marriage.

"Old Paris," who’s 72 years old, was jailed three times under the ‘hooliganism’ provision. Today he lives a quiet life together with his boyfriend. He says:

“Although I went to prison several times, I never felt that I was wrong. I never stole anything, I never robbed anyone, and I never did anything that was wrong.”

Expressing his sincere gratitude towards Li Yinhe, he said:

“I’ve lived for more than 70 years and at this moment I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. That’s all because of the tireless work Li Yinhe and others have been doing for all these years.”

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