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Page last updated at 14:51 GMT, Wednesday, 10 June 2009 15:51 UK

China bans parts of gay festival

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Beijing

Gay rights supporters parade in Hong Kong - 18/5/2008
No parade was staged, to avoid provoking Shanghai's authorities

The organisers of China's first Gay Pride Festival have been told to cancel two of their sessions.

The news came on the very day a state-run newspaper described the Shanghai festival as of "profound significance".

Officials have warned the owners of two venues planning to hold a play and a film screening they would face "severe consequences" if they went ahead.

Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997, and officials described it as a mental illness until 2001.

Since then the government's attitude might best be characterised as "don't condemn, but don't promote".

So a front-page article that discussed how many gay people there might be here, and an editorial in the state-run China Daily that highlighted the tolerance of a city like Shanghai seemed to represent a shift towards a more tolerant attitude.

A few hours later, however, officials in Shanghai were visiting businesses that planned to hold events as part of Pride Week and ordering them to cancel.

Nervous?

The festival's organisers are confused and frustrated. They do not know what is going on, and calls to the officials involved have gone unanswered.

It could be that this is more the result of the authorities' nervousness about public events they do not control than about the official attitude to homosexuality.

But it shows how, in this country, any effort to advance the rights of a group in society is viewed with suspicion and sometimes alarm.

The festival's organisers face an anxious wait to see if their remaining events will be allowed to go ahead.



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