A boom in the popularity of gay dating Apps for smart phones has contributed to record high levels of HIV infection in Hong Kong, some Aids prevention workers believe. But is technology or poor sex education at the root of the epidemic? Simon Parry and Hazel Knowles report
It takes only two or three taps on the screen of a smart phone before the picture of a bare-chested young man pops up. John is 25, he’s single, he’s looking for friends, dates and fun,he’s online now and he’s less than a mile away.
This is the new face of gay dating in Hong Kong. Male-only smart phone applications like Grindr that use global positioning technology to put homosexuals in touch have taken over from saunas and bars as the favored way for a new generation of gay men to source partners.
John’s profile is relatively tame. Others on Grindr are explicit, and make it clear precisely what the person within range is seeking and that in many cases he wants a fast, no-strings-attached sexual encounter.
The popularity of Grindr and other gay dating Apps in Hong Kong coincides with a worrying rise in the HIV infection rate. In the April to June quarter, 131 new cases were diagnosed, the highest quarterly total since records began in 1984.
Department of Health experts believe the number of infections in 2012 could exceed 500 for the first time and say the group where the virus that can lead to Aids is spreading fastest is among young gay men, known as MSM (Men who have Sex with Men).
Some Aids prevention groups believe the use of Grindr and similar Apps is playing a role in the HIV epidemic among MSM and have tried without success to engage the developers to reach out to young men at risk.
“Grindr helps men locate nearby MSM who also installs the same app in their smart phone. So it is much easier for them to locate a sex partner around their living district or area,” explained Aids Concern spokeswoman Panda Cheung Yin-mei.
“It has become popular in the past one or two years and it is one of the factors that are contributing to the record high levels of infections.
“A lot of MSM install this program and they search and find if there is an MSM nearby when they have free time. It is much easier for them to meet, and to have sex.”
Although Grindr is popular worldwide, claiming more than 4 million users, its potential to help spread HIV infection in Hong Kong is exacerbated by a lack of sex education in schools, Cheung argued.
“There is no homosexual-specific sex education in Hong Kong,” she said. “Young men are immature and they may not have the ability to negotiate safer sex when they have sex with an older partner. They feel they will be rejected if they ask for sex with a condom.
“The real problem is that schools do not encourage homosexual sex education. They should have it but I think there are a lot of social barriers in Hong Kong I think the government could put sex education forward with emphasis on young MSM in schools.”
Aids Concern runs support groups to educate young MSM - mostly in the 17 to 25 age range - about the importance of condom use and to try to encourage them to be more assertive with sexual partners over condom use.
It has also tried without success to collaborate with Grindr to reach out online to young MSM who might be vulnerable after meeting partners by using the app, said Cheung. However, she said: “There is a barrier to collaborating with the social media.
“Grindr is a money-making software. They have tightened monitoring of users and they don’t welcome NGOs doing out reach on the Grindr networks. Once they find a phone number is an NGO number, they block the number so the NGO cannot do it again.
“We have made preliminary contact with the Grindr developer and they have told us we welcome you as yourself, but you can’t post your agency logo on the Grindr network.”
Cheung said she believed Grindr had a social responsibility to facilitate more intervention because of the rise in HIV among young men. “We need some more time to negotiate,” she said. “They aren ow at the stage of making money. So maybe they will be more receptive later on.”
Responding to questions from the China Daily, a spokesman for Grindr said in an emailed statement: “Grindr strongly encourages our users to engage in safe sex practices, get tested and know their HIV status. Knowledge is power, and it’s the first and most important step in stopping the spread of this disease.
“As a company, we’re committed to promoting safe sex within the community, and we want to be a resource for our users in staying healthy. We have a page on our website called Grindr Health. On that page, users can find effective testing facilities or confidential online testing options to help them know their status before engaging in] any sexual activity.
“We encourage our users to explore this page and browse through the information to learn the best way to protect both themselves and their sexual partners.”
Wong Ka-hing, consultant in the special preventative department of the Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection, said there had been a proportionately greater rise in HIV infections among MSM since 2005, not just in Hong Kong but on the mainland, regionally and globally.
Department of Health research had not detected a specific link between HIV rates and the use of Apps like Grindr, Wong said, but he remarked: “Certainly, social media imposes new challenges. It is evolving and presenting opportunities for both HIV infection and prevention.
“At-risk populations including MSM and sex workers and clients can source sex partners more easily via these channels. But at the same time we have launched a mobile application to provide information on free condom accessibility and HIV testing services.”
Of the 131 quarterly infections in April to June, 65 were MSM infections and at least some of the 37 infections of so-far undetermined source were expected to fall into the same category,he said. The figure is both the highest quarterly number and ratio of MSM infections on record.
By contrast, Wong said, the trend for heterosexual infections had remained stable in recent years. “The MSM epidemic is a big challenge in HIV prevention and control,” he said, with rates many times higher than other at-risk groups.
Most infections in the MSM community result from unprotected sex. “I am not sure why but maybe some members in the (MSM) community are just ambivalent. They don’t have enough awareness or concern about the risk of infection, or they just ignore the issue,” said Wong.
n contrast to Grindr’s rapid popularity, the Department of Health’s mobile app targeting MSM has picked up few followers so far, Wong admitted.
The most effective way to tackle the epidemic, however, he said, was through safe sexeducation and regular HIV testing - something currently done by around 40 percent of Hong Kong’s MSM population.
“If safe sex can be taught at an early age, it is useful for future protection,” Wong said. “Interestingly, from the surveys we have done, we found that condom use when an MSM first has sex is correlated with consistent condom use in future.
“We don’t know why but this finding is quite consistent. So it would be useful if they could be taught to use condom when they have sex when they are still quite young.”
Paul Ramscar, a Hong Kong businessman and gay rights advocate who is launching a Pink Dollar smart phone app to promote gay-friendly bars, shops, nightclubs and restaurants, said it would be wrong to single out Grindr for blame in the rise in HIV cases.
“It’s a tragedy when this happens to someone but ultimately the buck stops with the individual.They need to be looking after their own health,” he said. “If they want to take the risks, if they want to play what is effectively Russian Roulette by not using a condom, then maybe there are going to be consequences.”
Social media and smart Apps had undoubtedly reshaped the gay scene in Hong Kong,Ramscar conceded. But he argued it was not constructive to single out one, such as Grindr, as there are others on the market serving the same function, such as Gaydar and Manhunt.
“Before, there was never the technology to go online and meet someone within 10 minutes if you were looking for a quick hook-up,” Ramscar said. “You had to go through the process of going to a bar to meet someone or reply to personal ads in the newspaper and it took quite some time.”
The key issue in tackling the spread of HIV is education, Ramscar believes. “Back in the mid to late 80s when (pop star) Freddy Mercury died there was a huge campaign worldwide to make people aware about Aids and safe sex,” he said. “I cannot recall seeing one of those types of ads for probably 15 years.
“You have this younger generation coming through who have probably had no sex education and probably never seen an advertisement on TV about sex education. They are not being educated and they lack the education and the knowledge to use condoms.
“Sex as a topic in Hong Kong is very taboo. People don’t talk about it. It needs to be on the agenda in schools. Times have changed, and more really should be done in Hong Kong to educate young people.”
Jimmy Lo, senior project officer with the Hong Kong Aids Foundation, said inadequate sex education meant young people in Hong Kong lacked knowledge of HIV and Aids and were not equipped with the skills to protect themselves.
“There are times when I go to the university and talk to psychology students about our work and I have been asked about how HIV and Aids is transmitted. These are undergraduates -they are not children - and they don’t know.
“Sex education should start earlier - in primary school or early secondary school. We should be talking not just about safe sex but how to have a healthy holistic relationship and sexualrelationships. The government needs to do more on this.”
by By Simon Parry and Hazel Knowles (China Daily HK Edition)
Updated: 2012-05-30 06:30
By Simon Parry (HK Edition)
In modern Hong Kong, it is the love that still dares not speak its name: Six out of 10 gay andlesbian employees hide their sexuality from colleagues and more than four in 10 keep it secreteven from their own families, a major new survey has found. But attitudes may be slowlychanging, reports Simon Parry.
(HK Edition 05/30/2012 page4)
Members get busy on the dance floor at a recent women-only event. Same-sex marriages among Hong Kong’s LGBT community remain out of reach in a city that holds conservative views towards marriage. Provided to China Daily
The gay community in Hong Kong is waging the same battle for the right to get married that is being waged in other cities. Here however the stakes may be considerably higher, as gay couples fight for the right for vital social services. Steven Chen reports.
When New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the same-sex marriage bill into law recently, there was a wave of excitement among America’s alternative lifestyle communities. Gays and lesbians flocked to New York City to tie the knot.
Here in Hong Kong their counterparts stand in envy, as activists pushing for greater rights for gays face off against powerful opposition forces. Same-sex marriage appears a distant dream.
Opponents of same-sex marriages include religious groups, academics, members of the government and the general public who hold deeply conservative views rooted in the city’s colonial years. Advocates for same-sex unions are marriage-minded lesbians and gays who see themselves as disadvantaged victims missing out on the benefits of marriage. The proponents of same-sex marriage are supported in their cause by human rights groups and some academics.
But the road to an ultimate resolution is rocky, with the biggest hurdle being that each side argues its case from a different starting point. In the end it may all boil down to the question: What is marriage?
“Marriage”, says Sam Winter, “is a type of social contract which performs many functions. It allows two individuals to make a lifelong commitment to each other, and more importantly, it is a declaration to society of their partnership and their love. It’s also a way of protecting their mutual interests, including financial, and offers them certain benefits.”
Members chat over drinks at a recent women-only event. Provided to China Daily
Depending on where the couple is living, these benefits may include tax breaks, the right to bequeath money and other assets to the other if one passes away and clear structures to determine access in the event of divorce, if there are any children involved.
In high-priced Hong Kong, where low incomes and sky-high property prices force nearly half the population into government-subsidized accommodation, the key benefit is access to public housing, since the wait for single applicants can be up to three times longer than for couples, who can wait an average of 3-5 years before being allocated.
Another is legal protection and recourse in the event of abuse – a dark side to same-sex partnerships that rarely makes headlines.
Currently there are no laws covering spousal abuse by one person against a same-sex partner, says Tommy Chan, founder and lead spokesman for the gay rights group Rainbow Hong Kong.
“The issue of same-sex marriage is one of human rights”, says Winter, a professor of gender studies who teaches sexuality and gender diversity at Hong Kong University. “The institution of marriage in Hong Kong is a right protected under a variety of frameworks including the international declaration of human rights, the city’s Basic Law and specific government ordinances.
“Everyone in Hong Kong should have the right to equal treatment. This includes access to the rights available within a marriage.”
Any changes to laws to allow marriages between consenting adults would probably occur as a series of smaller victories, says Michael Vidler, a human rights lawyer who fights for the rights of sexual minorities. Like Winter, Vidler believes marriage between same-sex couples is a fundamental right, the granting of which would also bring economic benefits to the city in terms of broadening its attractiveness to gay professionals, he says.
Vidler sided with gay rights activist, Billy Leung, during Leung’s successful effort to change the legal age of consent between homosexual couples in 2004, and is currently involved in the high-profile case of local transsexual “W”, who is fighting for the right to marry her male partner.
“The Billy Leung case was won on the grounds that relations between consenting adults of the same sex should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples.
“I can imagine that any changes to laws barring same-sex marriage would be carried out in a similar way – challenges to laws barring freedoms or rights that would normally be given in a marriage, but are denied because the union is not recognized.
“It may be on the grounds of denial of tax benefits, housing or other benefits (now) given to married heterosexual couples.”
Marriage in Hong Kong is bound by the Marriage Ordinance of 1970, in which marriage is recognized as the union between a man and a woman. It was this law to which the government turned when arguing against allowing “W” to marry. The same law would likely be cited as grounds to refuse same-sex marriages as well.
Opponents of the law would likely turn to Article 37 of the Basic Law, which gives every person the right to marry. There are also international human rights covenants, to which Hong Kong is a signatory, says Vidler.
While academics, lawyers and the government are clear on which side of the issue they fall, feelings within the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community are mixed.
“We ask ourselves, do we need marriage?” says Rainbow’s Chan. “Some say yes, but many say no.”
“Many of my friends think marriage is an attempt to copy the heterosexual lifestyle. If we get married, aren’t we conforming to what straight people think love is?
“The more urgent matters are public housing for us and our partners and protections in the case of abuse,” he says, seemingly unconcerned that marriage and such rights might actually be intertwined.
Someone who would like nothing more than to get married is Kidd Fu, founder of local girl-to-girl community group Girlicious.
“I’ve been with my partner for five years. We met when we were studying at the same college when we were 15. Her parents said they would force her out of her house because we were together, so she ran away to live with me.
Housing is a problem because it’s expensive. My parents are more open-minded but we need a place (of our own) to stay. Finally, she moved back home, because they asked her to come back, but they still hate me even now. I love my partner very much. I want to get married and hope we can stay together.”
For Ben Chan, marriage is a basic protection that everyone should enjoy. The merchandising assistant who says he is now looking for true love after a string of short-term relationships also says to grow up gay in Hong Kong is to be on guard, always, and avoiding behavior that would arouse suspicion.
“It’s not easy for same-sex couples to have privacy. We can’t do any ‘close actions’ in public. Everything has to run under the surface. We need our own space.
“If Hong Kong allowed same-sex marriages, we could enjoy the same financial and housing benefits. And I feel the society might accept us more.”
If marriage were an institution created for one couple only, things might be easier, says Professor Kwan Kai-man, an associate professor who teaches philosophy at Baptist University and is founder of the Hong Kong Sex Culture Society.
But it isn’t, he insists.
“Marriage is more than just a union between two people. It’s a social institution set up to encourage certain virtues and lifestyles which contribute to the common good of society. Same-sex marriage is not simply a matter of equal rights.”
Kwan does not share the view of religious-based groups like the Society for Truth and Light. The society decries same-sex marriage as an affront to virtuous living, holding that life should be lived in accordance with Christian teachings. Kwan opposes same-sex marriage on ground that such unions will open the door to all kinds of arrangements, many of which, he believes, are not healthy.
“I do not support same-sex marriages because I’ve yet to see a convincing argument for it,” says Kwan.
“If supporters argue that the union of a man and woman is a marriage and the union of two persons is marriage, how do we argue against heterosexual males A and B, living together as friends who want to marry for tax advantages? We would have two homosexuals, C and D, who can marry but A and B who can’t. Or how can we argue against a bisexual man marrying one man and one woman because he loves them equally?
“In Holland, in 2005, a man and two women signed a cohabitation contract akin to partnership or marriage. While prominent Dutch liberal Jans Martens agreed that this triple union was a kind of polygamy, he also said he wasn’t concerned how many husbands or wives were involved in a marriage.
“Yet many scholars argue that monogamy is the best system for bearing and rearing children. As for international covenants on human rights, both the Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refer to marriage rights but do not include same-sex partnerships.”
And, he insists, the problems the gay community have regarding other rights can be solved without a radical change to the institution of marriage.
“Inheritance can be safeguarded by a will; (decisions concerning) hospital (treatment) can be made more flexible in accordance with the wishes of the patient.
“The idea of marriage cannot be indefinitely expanded. Liberals tend to be scornful of the conservative argument against changing marriage, yet how do we stop sliding down that slippery slope once (such) rights and liberties are granted?”
Epic issues like human rights declarations and the future of society don’t figure much in the conversations of Fu and her partner as they dream of the day they can marry and live in a place of their own.
“If you met me and didn’t know who I was, you would think I’m a good person. But when you find out I’m a lesbian then suddenly I become a bad person? We are (still) the same people. Lesbians and gays are also human beings. We should have our rights.”
(HK Edition 07/12/2011 page4)
Source: China Daily
Gays and lesbians across China were left pleasantly stunned last evening by an unexpected report from national broadcaster CCTV which not only slammed award-winning actress Lü Liping (吕丽萍) for stoking homophobia, but also assured members of the LGBT community of their place in society.
Lü, winner of the Golden Horse Best Actress Award in 2010 and a born-again evangelical, had enthusiastically retweeted the homophobic comments on Sina Weibo by a Chinese pastor in Rochester, New York decrying the passage of same-sex marriage in the state.
This sparked off an intense debate that began with a call by gay activists for the boycott of Lü’s movies and has hogged headlines across greater China in the subsequent week. As celebrities, writers and academics alike joined in the whirlwind of debate, the Golden Horse Awards decided to rescind its invitation to Lü to present this year’s awards.
In the report on the programme “24 Hours” on the CCTV News channel, host Qiu Qiming (邱启明) held out unusually harsh words for Lü Liping, urging her to “reconsider her ways”. He said, “We respect the faith of individual celebrities, and we allow them to have their own point of view on issues. But, that does not mean that we agree that a person of such influence should have the power to openly discriminate against certain communities in China.”
”There is no doubt,” Qiu added, “that the sexual orientation of certain people in our midst are different from the rest of us. But they are also diligently contributing to society. Gay people, like us, have the right to exist and develop themselves in society, and this right should not be overtaken by any other concept.“
And in a reference to Voltaire’s famous aphorism, Qiu said in closing, “We’d like to say a word to the gay community — and it’s something we’ve all heard many times over — I may not agree with the way you live, but I will defend your right to be different from me.”
The state-owned broadcaster’s slapping down of Lü Liping for crossing the line may be indicative of the government’s wariness of the potential rise of political Christianity in China and the import of cultural clashes from the west.
Within the gay community, while many are understandably euphoric over the unexpected turn of events from the most unexpected source, there are others who remain unimpressed that this will bring about any real change.
For starters, China’s nascent gay movement continues to be too fragmented and impoverished to pose any real challenge to the government on policy matters. And it will continue to remain so for the foreseeable future as it struggles to find its voice on the public square.
Section/Page: Nation/05 China Daily Date: 2011-07-05
Critics attack Christian actress over her anti-gay comments
By Wang JingqiongBEIJING – A well-known actress triggered heated discussion and criticism last week by citing the Bible to express her disapproval of homosexuality on her micro blog. Lu Liping, 51, is a Christian. Since last Wednesday she has updated several micro blogs in which she called homosexuality a crime loathed by God. In one micro blog she cited Romans 1:26-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”Lu wrote that this was “very powerful and convincing”.
In another entry, she reprinted a priest’s micro blog commenting on the legalization of gay marriage in New York. The priest wrote: “So far New York is the sixth and also the largest state in the US to legalize gay marriage. God, please forgive this ever-degenerating place! Even if anti-homosexuality becomes illegal some day, I will keep preaching: homosexuality is a crime. God loves people; hates crimes! Believe in Jesus and conquer the crime!”Lu commented: “Brothers and sisters, let everybody see this!”
She also gave an example of how a gay man came to understand his crime and finally corrected himself by asking Jesus for help.Her words have shocked people and attracted wide criticism. Compared to her other micro blogs, each of which gets a few hundred comments, each of those about homosexuality has attracted more than 10,000 comments.
Although some people supported her, many expressed their anger at her intolerance, especially because she is a public figure whose attitude has greater influence than those of ordinary people.
“How could anybody be so cruel,” said Xiaoguo (alias), a 26-year-old lesbian. “Does God not also teach them to love? Does she even know any gay or lesbian people?”Li Yinhe, a sociologist and an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, said Lu’s opinions were “cliched, ignorant and backward”.
“Not all Christians are against homosexuality,” Li said on her micro blog. “Lu should consider her own status. She’s a public figure, and it is unforgivable for her to express such biased opinions.”However, while disagreeing with Lu’s anti-homosexuality, some experts believe people have the right to express their opinions, whether they are celebrities or not.
“In my opinion, nobody has the right to call gay people criminals and ask them to be ‘corrected’,” said Gu Baochang, a professor of sociology at Renmin University of China.
“But Lu has her own opinion, and she should have the freedom to express it. You may agree or disagree with her, but you cannot stop her from expressing herself.”Xiaoguo says this incident might actually turn out to be positive if it raises Chinese people’s awareness of homosexual rights, of which, in her opinion, most people are unaware.
Lu became a famous actress in the late 1980s, and last year won the best leading actress at the Golden Horse Awards, the most prominent annual film festival in Taiwan.
Source: China Daily