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'Mom, I'm gay'- Straight talk

THOUGH gay people in China are more open and urban society is more accepting - gays' parents are not. Yao Minji attends a Gay Pride forum and investigates.

Sixty-seven-year-old Wu Youjian is one of the most courageous women in China - the first Chinese mother to go on television to support her homosexual son.

Widely known as Mom Wu in China's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community, Wu was the keynote speaker at a forum during the ongoing three-week Shanghai (Gay) Pride 2010 celebration, running through November 6.

She discussed her own experience and said parents should openly and wisely accept the sexual orientation of their children - even if it means not marrying in a society that requires virtually everyone to marry, produce an heir and carry on the all-important bloodline.

"I've been giving similar talks in many big cities and I've only seen a few parents," said youthful-looking and highly articulate Wu.

"It is difficult for parents not to oppose the fact of their child's sexual orientation, to say nothing about acknowledging it in public."

Wu, who lives in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, is a former editor of a literary magazine. She is the daughter of two high-ranking government officials, so one might expect her to be very orthodox in her views. But she's not, nor is her overseas Chinese husband, who is very open-minded. He was orphaned, so there are no bloodline issues. He also supports his son.

At the forum last weekend in a hotel in Hongqiao area, all 100 attendees, mostly LGBT people and friends, were astonished and amazed that one other mother showed up.

Mei Jie, or Sister Mei, a 48-year-old Shandong Province native, arrived with her 25-year-old son Vincent Wang and his boyfriend Jerry Chen. She is a divorced freelance writer.

The three received loud applause and cheers, much of it for the brave and open-minded Shandong mother they wish were their own.

China's gay community is coming out of the closet and winning some acceptance in this conservative country, and significant progress has been made. The social environment is more tolerant of the LGBT community - Shanghai and Beijing both have their own gay pride events.

But it was only in 2001 that China's Ministry of Health removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Homosexual acts were only decriminalized in 1997. Still, many people regard it as an illness and unnatural.

In such a short time, gay couples (mostly male) have stepped out of secluded places in parks to hold hands, even kiss on the street and post their pictures online. It is no longer rare to see talk shows interviewing LGBT in big cities.

However, "Tolerance and acceptance are still difficult when it comes to individual families and parents," Wu said.

Parents - most of them appalled at their children's sexual orientation - are overwhelmingly silent. The loss of face would be enormous should anyone know it.

Parents are the first and biggest barrier for the estimated 20 million gays and 10 million lesbians in China, said Dr Zhang Beichuan from Qingdao City, Shandong Province. Zhang is an important figure in AIDS education and intervention among gays.

He told the forum his research reveals that among Chinese gays around 30 years old, more than half are involved in heterosexual relations while more than 80 percent are married.

He attributed the marriage phenomenon largely to pressure from parents in a society that revolves around marriage and family and places intense pressure on young people to marry and become part of the matrix of interlocking family ties.

Not to marry and participate is often seen as a misfortune, something that throws a spanner into the works.

Zhang said it's not uncommon for parents to send a child to a psychologist to "cure" them and the parents, often separated frequently, ask if their child would become "straight" if they reconciled and lived as husband and wife. If that's what it takes, they will do it.

Beijing sociologist Li Yinhe has been pressing for legal marriage for homosexual couples and urged parents communicate more with their children and accept and love them as they are.

It's very difficult in practice.

Shanghai Daily interviewed a number of parents.

"Logically, I know this is not changeable, and I accept the fact. But emotionally, I can't help thinking what if ... my daughter has been lost," said a Shanghai mother surnamed Lin.

Around two years ago she suspected her now 29-year-old daughter was a lesbian, but never confronted her daughter about her girlfriend. Instead, she called the girlfriend's parents and warned them, "Look out for your daughter."

Mom Wu first publicly supported her gay son in a late-night TV interview in 2005, shortly after he came out in a magazine article. She learned he was gay back in 1999, when he just turned 17.

She decided to dedicate herself to the gay community, especially offering suggestions on handling family relations, from a mother's perspective. She has opened a blog and a weibo (China's counterpart to Twitter), started a hotline, and founded a group called Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Guangzhou for parents and friends of LGBT.

Yet, she admitted that Mei Jie, or Sister Mei, is the only other parent she has met who not only tolerates but publicly accepts her child's sexual orientation.

Even Sister Mei has had her moments.

"Coming from northern China, which is more old-fashioned and conservative, I barely heard anything about homosexuality before Vincent came out to me. I was shocked," she recalled.

She kept staring at her son's coming-out message to her through the online chat software QQ and quietly set her QQ to invisible, pretending to have quit.

Like many other Chinese parents, Mei's first reaction was to blame herself.

"I felt responsible. I asked myself whether I was too protective as he grew up? Was it because I was a single parent? I couldn't stop blaming myself."

Through the Internet, Mei did her own research and went through the three steps recognized in gay counseling: first, to understand it was not her "fault" and there was nothing wrong with her son; second, to accept the fact that he would not marry and give her a grandchild; and third, to live in peace and contentment with the unchangeable fact.

Now, she has moved to Shanghai to live with the couple and plans to stay because of the city's open social environment.


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