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Volunteers run China's first lesbian helpline
23 November 2006

Shanghai, China: China's first helpline specifically for lesbians will begin taking

calls this weekend, organizers said Wednesday, in a sign of growing

awareness of issues facing gay women in China's commercial center.

The Shanghai-based helpline will offer advice and counseling between 2

p.m. and 4 p.m. each Saturday, with about 10 female volunteers taking

the calls, said Rager Shen, a volunteer with the Hong Kong-based Chi

Heng Foundation that is funding the helpline.

The service will be an extension of a helpline for both gay men and

lesbians that opened about six months ago but previously had only male

volunteers answering questions on homosexuality.

"Lesbians would feel uncomfortable talking with men about their private

issues, so we just wanted to have a try at setting up a fixed period of

time exclusively for women," Shen said.

Shen said the prior lack of such a helpline reflected how Chinese

society largely ignored lesbians, or "lala" in modern Chinese slang,

and their issues.

"Our society pays much less attention to lesbians because they are not

the high-risk population for AIDS. But they do have a lot of

psychological problems," Shen said.

While acceptance of homosexuality remains generally low in China,

Shanghai with its relatively wealthy, cosmopolitan population, boasts

an increasingly open gay community.

In what was hailed as a watershed moment for gay acceptance, a top

Shanghai university this year began offering China's first class on

homosexuality and gay culture, mainly because of strong demand from


Gays were strongly persecuted after China's 1949 communist revolution,

condemned as products of decadent Western and feudal societies.

Official attitudes have gradually loosened since the late 1980s, and in

2001 the China Psychiatric Association ceased listing homosexuality as

a mental illness.

However, most gays remain closeted and the government has ruled-out

legalizing same-sex marriages or passing legal protections such as

anti-discrimination laws. Larger-scale gatherings such as gay film

festivals have been banned and gay bars in some cities are subject to

closure or police harassment.