A NGO has revealed that volunteers have delayed opening China's first government-backed gay bar following intense media attention, which underlines the still taboo nature of homosexuality in the country.
"They were scared their identity would be revealed, that it would lead to misunderstanding and changes in their lives," said Zhang Jianbo, founder of the Dali HIV/AIDS prevention and health association, the NGO behind the initiative.
The bar in Dali, a tourist town in the southwestern province of Yunnan, aimed to provide a place where homosexuals could meet in a relaxed atmosphere and get information about HIV/AIDS prevention, he told AFP by phone.
China's health ministry warned on Tuesday that homosexual transmission of HIV/AIDS was gaining pace. Zhang, a doctor at a hospital in Dali, said raising awareness of the disease among the gay community was "extremely important."
The bar was due to open on December 1 -- World AIDS Day -- with the support of the local government, which had invested 120,000 yuan (17,600 dollars) in the NGO, he said.
"Our government leader asked me whether we could open it today, but I said the volunteers did not want to," Zhang said, pointing out that journalists and photographers had descended en masse on Dali following news of the bar's opening.
"If we open a place for an underground group, and if news is published about our target group and our volunteers in this way, it will influence their lives," he said.
"The volunteers (also gay) themselves called a democratic meeting and decided to delay the opening, and when they think the issue has moved on, then they will open it and continue their work."
Homosexuality in China -- where it was officially considered a mental illness until 2001 -- is still an extremely sensitive issue.
Gay men and women in China find it difficult to come out to their friends and family. One of the reasons lies in the nation's one-child policy, which makes parents rely on their only child to marry and have grandchildren.
The official China Daily newspaper said in 2005 that the number of homosexuals in China came to around 30 million, although it conceded few were willing to acknowledge their sexuality.
Statements from government departments and academic reports have put the figure at approximately 15 million, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.