New York Today: Meeting a Gay Pride Grand Marshal

Good morning on this muggy Monday.

The NYC Pride celebrations continue this week, leading up to the march on Sunday.

Thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers and their supporters are expected to attend the march, which will led by four grand marshals: Brooke Guinan, an activist, transgender woman and New York City firefighter; Krishna Stone, the director of community relations at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a support center that fights AIDS; representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union; and Geng Le, a Chinese gay rights activist.

Mr. Geng, whose real name is Ma Baoli, is a former police officer who set up one of China’s first gay advice and networking websites, and later created Blued, which is one of the country’s most popular gay dating apps.

He was selected to be a grand marshal in recognition of his successful use of the internet to raise awareness among China’s gay community and of his passion for L.G.B.T. rights.

We caught up with Mr. Geng on Skype as he prepared to visit New York.

What was it like growing up gay in China?
“I realized I was gay when I was 18 or 19. At the time, the Chinese media would report that gay people carried diseases and needed psychological treatment,” Mr. Geng said through a translator. “My parents didn’t know, and they still think being gay is a disease.”

Afraid to talk about his sexuality with others, Mr. Geng began researching gay life online. He said his discovery of more positive depictions in Western culture led him to create, a website intended to let gay Chinese citizens talk freely with each other.

What is it like being L.G.B.T. in China today?
“L.G.B.T. people are much happier than when I was young,” Mr. Geng said. Until 1997, gay sex was considered a crime in China, and homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in the country until 2001.

Things have gotten better since, Mr. Geng said, but the situation remains challenging. One of the biggest problems is that people who come out as gay risk losing their jobs, he added.

What do you think of gay life in New York City?
“In New York, being gay is not really a big deal,” he said. “In China, it’s not as easy for us to come out, so gay men rely on online connections much more than in New York.”

He also said he had noticed that gay New Yorkers went to bars during the week, often wearing work clothes. Gay night life in Beijing, he said, is mostly limited to the weekend.

What do you hope for the future of gay life in China?
“There are still many challenges we are facing now,” Mr. Geng said, citing several problems. Television shows and movies with L.G.B.T. themes are not allowed. School textbooks still teach falsehoods about L.G.B.T. people. And the H.I.V. infection rate in China is a concern.

“But we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “Society is becoming more open about our issues, so I think it’s going to get better and better.”

by Jonathan Wolfe
Source – The New York Times