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Taking to the Streets to Teach China’s Gay Migrants About Safe Sex

Sixth Tone, China, 25 September 2021 - “Get your free lubricant and condoms!”

It was a Saturday night in Garden Park, the most popular gay cruising spot in a South China industrial zone, and the place was packed. Hundreds of gay men, most of them migrants, sat chitchatting in circles or wandering the bushes looking for potential sexual partners. At the same time, five volunteers made the circuit of the park grounds, offering contraceptives and talking to those assembled about where they could get tested for HIV.

“I don’t need any,” one cruiser complained. “My ‘doors’ have been closed for months.”

“Take them anyway,” replied the volunteer in a well-practiced tone. “Maybe they’ll come in handy tonight. Never go without one!”

The volunteers there that night knew their business well. Their grassroots HIV/AIDS testing and prevention organization — funded by the local Center for Disease Control — is the only LGBT-focused group in the entire industrial zone.

In China, HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives targeting the country’s MSM population date back to the early 1990s, when rising HIV infection rates caught the state’s attention and pushed it to take action. In a bid to reach marginalized communities, state-affiliated health workers partnered with LGBT Chinese to raise awareness and pass out prophylactics. This arrangement marked the starting point of gay organizing in urban China by helping provide the resources and opportunities needed to unify the community and set the stage for later fights against homophobia and HIV-related discrimination.



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