When the eight finalists of the first Mr. Gay China pageant strut the catwalk of a Beijing club this Friday, they'll be doing something that was once unthinkable in a country where gay sex was illegal until 1997 and homosexuality was classed as a mental illness until 2001. These days, official state media are reporting approvingly of Mr. Gay China, which reflects a newly thriving gay scene in China's major cities.
Shanghai held its first-ever Pride week last year, Beijing has seen calls for gay marriage, and there's a government-backed gay bar in Kunming. Still, gay rights advocates say China has a long way to go, especially in rural provinces. If Mr. Gay China "gets seen by some country boy in Ningxia, maybe he will realize 'It's not horrible to be gay and I'm not alone,'" the pageant organizer tells the Guardian.