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Gay pride fest runs afoul of city authorities

THE organizers of Shanghai's first gay pride festival started off the week believing that the city was willing to tolerate a more open attitude toward homosexuality.

Last night, it seemed their optimism may have been premature.

After a story on the festival appeared on the front page of a Beijing-based newspaper yesterday, local authorities shut down three of the planned events.

Two of the cancelled events were film screenings at the Kathleen 5 bar and restaurant and the other was a play at Barefoot Studios, a photography studio.

Authorities said the reason for the shutdowns was that the venues lacked the appropriate licenses, Hannah Miller, chief organizer of the festival, told Shanghai Daily last night.

According to Miller, a Mr Yao from the Nanjing Road E. Commercial Bureau told Kathleen 5 that if the showing went ahead, "penalties would be severe." The films were scheduled for last night and tomorrow evening.

A Mr. Li from an unidentified local authority told Barefoot Studios that it did not have a licence to stage plays, and tomorrow night's production was suspended. Organizers are now looking for venues with an appropriate license to host the play.

The films that were to be shown were "s/he," which is about a young girl's sexual identity crisis, and "Destination Shanghai," about the city's sex trade. The play, "The Laramie Project," deals with a gay-related hate crime in small-town America.

The festival, which opened last Sunday, was meant to celebrate the increasing visibility and tolerance of the gay community in China.

"We want to bridge the gap between gay and straight, expat and Chinese," Miller said.

And until yesterday afternoon there had been no intervention from authorities. Although organizers had not sought official approval for the festival, they had been confident that the events including talks, films and parties at private venues would not run into trouble.

"They are all activities we have hosted before, and we never had problems. This time we just put the events together in a week and gave it the name of a festival," Miller said.

But from the outset, the organizers were not confident enough to schedule a parade, which is common in the gay pride festivals elsewhere in the world that are going on now. After consulting legal counsel they felt it would push official boundaries too far.

Miller said she could not comment on the reasons for the shutdowns, or on the possibility of similar action affecting the rest of the festival.

All other events, including a day-long series of parties this Saturday expected to attract more than 1,000 people, are going ahead as planned. The main event is scheduled for the Glamour Bar, on the Bund. And a "Queer Olympiad" is scheduled for the festival's closing day on Sunday.


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