A new chapter in the slow opening up of China started this month with the opening of a new social support centre for the gay community in Hong Kong.

The centre is the first of its kind in the country.

This was made possible with a one-year grant of HK$430,000 (£26,750) from the AIDS Trust Fund.

The donation will pay the rent for the premises and support one full time staff member for one year.

The opening of the centre follows another positive move by the highest court in Hong Kong, when leniency was shown in a case of gay public sodomy.

It was ruled that two men who were being penalised for having sex in a car park did not deserve a maximum penalty of five years, as the same punishment would not be meted out to a heterosexual couple in a similar situation.

The verdict was hailed as a victory for China’s gay rights movement.

Recent surveys showed that the majority of Hong Kong gay men requiring HIV tests and advice are more comfortable approaching organisations which will be supportive and comfortable with their sexuality.

Of the 314 people interviewed, 180 selected gay organisations, 147 selected AIDS service groups and while only 132 picked the Chinese Department of Health.

However, a few battles remain.

The survey also revealed that homosexuals were not entirely comfortable disclosing their sexuality to these organisations.

37% of the interviewees said they were worried about exposing their orientation.

The main concerns of all the men interviewed, before they contacted AIDS services, were confidentiality, friendliness and the reputation of the service groups.

Rainbow of Hong Kong’s founder, Kenneth Cheung Kam-hung said that there was a need for counselling, special interest classes and training workshops for volunteers, as well as a hotline to provide peer support for homosexuals.

He told AP:

“We found that the existing social services groups were unable to reach the minority group. Merely distributing condoms and carrying out blood tests is not enough to help them.”