In another sign of relaxing attitudes to homosexuality in the world’s most populous country, the state-controlled Chinese press has reported on the problems faced by gay people.

China Daily has highlighted the work of a Guangzhou-based free hotline for homosexuals.

However, the paper emphasises that 56% of the 2,336 calls it has received are about psychological problems.

Ignorance about AIDS is the other striking factor.

Wang Ye, a doctor with the Guangdong provincial disease control and prevention center’s AIDS research institute, told China Daily.

“The hotline not only helps ease some of the psychological pressure that many homosexuals face thereby nipping more tragedies in the bud but it also plays an important role in promoting anti-AIDS campaigns among homosexuals.

“It actually outperforms some governmental organisations in this regard,” Wang said.

The paper reports that all 20 of the hotline volunteers are gay, among them doctors, government officials and teachers.

“Many of them call us repeatedly, asking everything they can think of about AIDS despite the fact that they have tested negative for HIV,” Xiao Shen told China Daily.

“The psychological problems their family members suffer from deserve equal attention from society, if not more.

“More often than not, they have no access to professional advice.”

“You can imagine how shocked they are when they learn that a member of their family is homosexual,” he said.

A new scheme to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst gay and bisexual men is to be launched in China this month.

The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has begun collecting ideas from men who have sex with men (MSM) on the programmme.

It aims to build a national network for the sale and distribution of condoms and lubricants and make them more available to MSM.

The programme will also relax registration rules for gay advocacy groups.

HIV/AIDS advocacy groups have already begun campaigns.

The new scheme comes in the light of recent statistics on HIV/AIDS in China.

According to the Chinese CDC, the number of HIV-positive MSM has doubled since 2004, with only 10-20% of China’s estimated 20 million MSM using condoms.

MSM account for 7.3% of HIV/AIDS cases in the country.

The Terrence Higgins Trust have already shown a concern for the spread of HIV/AIDS in China, stating: “The number of people living with HIV in East Asia increased by one fifth between 2003 and 2005, due mostly to China’s rapidly growing epidemic.”