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Police shut down Mr. Gay China competition in Beijing

Restrictions on homosexuality have relaxed in recent years, but state still keeps a watchful eye.

BEIJING, China — It was no match: eight stocky policemen against eight young gay men. The eight contestants for Mr. Gay China did not stand a chance.

The officers — whom one organizer described as “definitely not cute” — stomped into Beijing’s upscale LAN club Friday night to tell Ben Zhang, the man behind China’s first ever national gay beauty pageant, that the show could not go on.

Mr. Gay China was due to start in just minutes. Around 50 foreign media, brandishing TV cameras and wielding microphones were milling impatiently in front of the stage. Programs and a copy of China’s only gay magazine, Gayspot, were laid neatly out on chairs. Around 200 tickets had been sold and new arrivals were being turned away. Some of the contestants were backstage applying make-up and telling the journalists how excited they were.

But across the hall in another part of the bar the police were telling Zhang he had not gone through the proper procedures for holding this kind of event. An event with shows like singing and dancing, they said, needed official approval. Outside the closed doors, managerial staff were wringing their hands at the thought of all the lost business.

Zhang, a vivacious and handsome 30-year-old from Tianjin, looked stunned and laughed nervously. He stumbled back to the stage area and told the journalists to have a drink and then leave.

“They [the police] said the content, meaning homosexuality, there is nothing wrong with that. But you guys didn’t do things according to the procedures. So you have to go out there and cancel the show,” he said.

Xiaogang Wei, one of the judges and the founder of Beijing-based gay podcast "Queer Comrades" said it was nothing to do with procedures. “It’s to do with the fact that this is a gay event.”

The police gatecrash came as no surprise to many here tonight.

A few days before the competition Zhang himself had joked about the possibility of having a run-in with the authorities. “Every time I hear the door bell go I think, ‘Oh my god, is it the police?’”

While restrictions on homosexuality have relaxed considerably over the past decade — it was removed from the list of mental illnesses back in 2001 — the government still keeps a close eye on the community, as it does with any sensitive and organized group. Most big cities have gay and lesbian bars and the Chinese press has been increasingly sympathetic to gay issues.

However, high profile media events like this are sometimes closed down. Back in 2005, a gay culture festival with art, lectures and independent movies, was broken up by police just hours before it was due to begin.