RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And we turn now to another popularity contest that has drawn international media attention - the first gay beauty pageant in China. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, the event may have attracted more attention than the organizers or contestants wanted.
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ANTHONY KUHN: A singer warms up as stagehands ready sound and lights at the upscale Lan Bar. It's the last day of rehearsals before the Mr. Gay China beauty pageant. Foreign journalists far outnumber the eight contestants, whom they're interviewing one after another. One of the pageant's organizers, nicknamed Niu Niu, said this was not the way he had planned it.
NIU NIU: (Through translator) We started out with a low-profile approach to this event, promoting it on a very small scale and with only a few contestants. But international media interest has exceeded our expectations. This week, the interest has exploded, and we're a bit worried.
KUHN: Contestants rehearse for a fashion show and prepare to answer questions by a panel of judges. The plan is to send the winner to represent China at the worldwide Mr. Gay contest in Norway. Niu Niu says the pageant is intended to present an appealing and wholesome image of China's comrades, as homosexuals are known in Chinese slang.
NIU: (Through translator) The contestants will present a new image of China's comrades - healthy, fashionable, and with a sunny, positive attitude.
KUHN: That's fine by Justin, a 29-year-old business consultant with a dragon tattooed on his forearm. He asked that he be identified only by his first name.
JUSTIN: (Through translator) I don't want my parents to know about this event. If I don't win this competition and they see me, I'll just deny it was me. If I win, then I'll accept it and treat it as an opportunity to tell my parents the truth.
KUHN: Any hint of a gay rights movement in China today would likely to be harshly suppressed by authorities. So, says pageant contestant Steven Zhang, patience is in and militancy is out.
STEVEN ZHANG: (Through translator) I don't think China needs a movement. That would only make the situation worse. If we can maintain the current situation, our generation may not live to see acceptance, but the next will definitely have hope.
KUHN: Zhang is hopeful that China can revive the spirit of tolerance that he says people in ancient China showed towards homosexuality. Organizer Niu Niu adds that just the preparations for the pageant have raised awareness and support for the gay community.
NIU: (Through translator) We hope there will be a good result tomorrow. If not, we'll feel regret. But at least we gave it our best try and we feel that we've already succeeded by making it this far.
KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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