Yang Guang: From MSM Trailblazer to Marching in Place

China Development Brief, No. 53 (Spring 2012)

中文 English

As part of her series on NGOs in Anhui, Guo Ting provides a moving account of an MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) worker’s 14 year effort to provide a space for gay men in Fuyang, Anhui to get counseling and HIV testing. Like the accompanying profile of Ma Zhengzhou, this article provides an up-close look at the challenges of AIDs prevention in remote provinces, and the close links between AIDs and MSM groups, the local Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other local government and public institutions and NGOs working to stem the rise of AIDs in China.

Perhaps it is difficult for many people to accept love between same sex couples.  Many HIV prevention groups that work with men who have sex with men (MSM) are resting their hopes on more open-minded and tolerant messages in their organizational names. Either way, the Yang Guang Blue Sky Public Interest Group (阳光蓝天公益小组,hereafter the Yang Guang Group) in Fuyang City, Anhui Province is also in this situation. Yang Guang, the online name of Yang Guang Group’s director, works at the Fuyang City Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and has  been engaged in HIV prevention work for MSM groups since 1998.  People are surprised to hear he has been working on AIDS prevention in Anhui for so long given that the Academy Award-winning The Blood of Yingzhou District,  which reported on the HIV epidemic in Fuyang, only came out in 2007. [Editor’s Note: The Blood of Yingzhou District focused on children who were orphaned by the HIV epidemic that swept through the area.]

In Yang Guang’s words, MSM work in small and medium sized underdeveloped cities lacks many things: support from policy and leaders; frameworks or models for intervention; and funding and personnel.  There is also a lack of understanding among society and one’s colleagues. Yet despite the difficulties endured over the years, we hope our efforts will create a brighter future for the local MSM community.’

The Yang Guang Group in Small and Medium-sized Underdeveloped Cities

In the mid-1990s, Yang Guang returned from the military to work in the local disease prevention station (which later became the local CDC) as a doctor.  At that time, there were already a few experts there studying the transmission of HIV. Yang Guang worked with these experts to understand the severity of HIV and HIV transmission. In 1998, Yang Guang was working part time as a host for a radio hotline answering health questions, and he was also giving out basic information about HIV. Some who were concerned about HIV topics called the hotline telephone for more information. In May of that year, a male audience member called to ask about HIV and discuss his own homosexual experiences. This was the very first time Yang Guang came into contact with the MSM population.

Yang Guang has always made use of his passionate and candid personality to communicate, introducing methods to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV. Of course, there were many things he did not understand at the time, so he went to books and magazines to find the answers. Yang Guang wrote letters to the HIV expert Guo Yaqi asking for advice.  Guo then introduced him to Zhang Beichuan, a famous doctor who started the LGBT journal, Friends (朋友通讯). After this series of introductions, Yang Guang gradually deepened his understanding of the MSM community and their attention to AIDS prevention, and began to work towards solving this problem. Due to enormity of the problem, Yang Guang worked mostly with the gay population in Hefei, Anhui Province. His work focused on making materials relating to HIV/AIDS prevention available, distributing condoms and giving out copies of Friends.

After the SARS outbreak in 2003, information about the transmission of HIV in Fuyang gradually surfaced, the situation has become more relaxed, Yang Guang formed the local Yang Guang Group. Their work is focused on HIV prevention in the MSM community in the Fuyang region. This group is composed of many part-time volunteers, similar to most MSM groups, with a variety of hotline counseling, peer education and outreach activities.

Since 2004, Yang Guang has operators at the phones 24 hours a day to answer calls. Since the first personal phones to today’s modern cell phones, their phone number has been published online, and callers throughout the country can always get help, no matter how busy. The money for the operation of this service comes from Yang Guang’s personal salary.

Unlike in large cities, small and medium sized cities better preserve interpersonal relations, and relationships between friends and family are more complicated. Thus, many people who engage in high risk behavior are apprehensive about getting tested for diseases. They are often not willing to go to the CDC because they fear they will see people they recognize. In 2006, Yang Guang and a friend worked together to open up a public service bar called Night Colors (夜色). The bar is located less than 50 meters from the CDC in Yingzhou District of Fuyang and became a site for counseling and testing for the MSM community. Taking privacy and security into account, the bar opened up two separate small rooms which provided counseling and testing in a relaxed environment. Most volunteers were doctors or CDC workers who worked during the day and at night went to the bar to provide testing services. The bar also offers peer education training, has a large number of informational materials, and provides condoms and lubricants. Because the sexual attitudes of small and medium sized cities are still quite conservative, volunteers must pay close attention to creating a culture of safety and awareness.  They also have to remind people that the slogan“always have condoms in your bag” reflects a modern and responsible attitude, and should not be seen as shameful.  Shameful behavior is unsafe sex.

In addition, using his position as a CDC staff member, Yang Guang strives to narrow the gap between the CDC, other governmental organizations and MSM groups. He has applied for funding from the Global Fund, which is used mainly in activities that strengthen the connections between the CDC and MSM groups. In this way, many CDC staff can gain a deeper understanding of the MSM community. At the time, the reputation of Night Colors bar was far-reaching and even people from Hefei [Anhui’s capital] would come to get tested. Yang Guang is thus known as one of the earliest promoters of HIV prevention in Anhui.

The Difficult Plight of MSM Work

Even though the Yang Guang Group’s work with MSM groups is some of the most progressive in all China, there are more and more groups that are starting to work in HIV prevention in the MSM communities. Looking back over the Yang Guang Group’s development, Yang Guang’s language betrays a sense of anxiety.

In his view, some individuals engaged in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment work have deep-rooted prejudice and discrimination for the infected. Groups and organizations will often only look at the skills of applicants when recruiting new employees. Many organizations will overlook prejudices and misunderstandings that their employees might have towards homosexuals.

In December 2009, Yang Guang applied for funding from the Global Fund for a joint venture with local government departments and universities to host a large-scale activity. They extended special invitations to Zhu Liya, who works for the U.S. CDC in China, Mu Rongfeng, of the Hebei Light of Love Care Group (河北爱之光感染者组织), and several famous actors.

Yang Guang remembered one rainy night when the university was packed with students, volunteers and a large number of reporters who came to support the event. Zhu Liya, Mu Rongfeng and various Hong Kong actors and performers came and were all very excited. When one of the officials was brought to speak, he said people living with HIV should not have children, because their children will simply be a burden to society. As soon as the words left his mouth, a number of students stood up to protest, believing the statement discriminated against those infected with HIV and violated their reproductive rights.

More common than such slips of the tongue in public are misunderstandings of the MSM community. For example, some CDC staff believe that homosexual acts occur because men are not satisfied having sex with just women and want more. They believe contracting HIV is the result of an active sex life. A county in Fuyang found that sex among homosexuals has led to half of all new cases of HIV, but local MSM intervention work is not able to expand because the local government department leader does not like the sound of homosexual sex. He asked the county to report all homosexual transmission as heterosexual transmission.

Years ago, a government department in Fuyang was working on producing a promotional calendar for HIV prevention and treatment. They had one slogan which said: “To prevent HIV, do not engage in homosexual acts and do not do drugs.” Some passers-by took pictures of this and posted them to an online forum which, in turn, was picked up by the media. This incident caused an uproar. Later, after orders were given to track down the source, it was found that the slogan was taken off the internet by a local official, and printed for public dissemination without any discussion and approval.

In addition, the social psychology and atmosphere of small and medium-sized cities has become a problem. Because the Yang Guang Group can only apply for small grants to support activities, it does not have the financial ability to employ full-time workers. Yang Guang hopes that a new group at Fuyang Teachers College (阜阳师范学院) can expand its work with homosexual advocacy and HIV awareness. However many students at the school, after being contacted, seemed interested in joining more mainstream charity groups and organizations. Some students wanted to join the group but were apprehensive about working closely with gays living with HIV. Others were afraid they would not get support from the school, while still others were afraid to reveal their sexual orientation. Some students are interested in joining the new group for financial reasons, saying they would join if they were paid first. In this regard, Yang Guang was very unpleased. He feels you should not expect to be paid up front before contributing to charity work. If you have not done anything, how can you expect to be paid? In fact, Yang Guang has already invested a considerable sum of money into the Yang Guang Group.

From 2006 to 2010, Night Colors Bar had been open for five years but was only breaking even. The original idea to come out with a profit has never been realized.  In 2010, the rent for Bar had gone up, and it eventually was forced to move. In early 2011, Yang Guang rented a small room on the nicest part of Yingzhou Road in Fuyang. He and several volunteers painted and refurbished the office, hoping to open an office that resembled the Beijing LGBT Center (北京同志中心). Here, they would be able to invite MSM community members to participate in activities, watch movies and provide consulting. In addition, they would also be able to offer free testing.

In order to subsidize the rent and utilities, Yang Guang bought a lot of beer and beverages, with the intent of selling them to anyone who came to participate in the activities.

One year later, however, the beer still sat in the corner unopened. Yang Guang said people from small and medium sized cities do not like the kinds of activities that people in big cities like. They do not like to sit around and chat quietly, but instead prefer the excitement and clamor of the bar. The yearly rent of the office is 9000 RMB, and there are an addition of 1000 RMB for property costs, which are all taken from Yang Guang’s own wages. While he and I were leaving the office, the building manager came to talk to him about these various expenses.

As Others Make Progress, Only I Remain Marching in Place

To have worked so hard, with the road ahead so difficult, many would want to give up, but Yang Guang will not part with his cause. Yang Guang’s eyes were red and bloodshot when I spoke with him. He gets little sleep, working during the day and offering counseling and testing at night. But he repeated, Fuyang is such a great base, and our work should be at the forefront of China’s HIV prevention centers as a model to prevent the spread of HIV. The current head of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention of STD and AIDS (国家疾病防控中心性病艾滋病防控中心), Wu Zunyou, returned to China from the US in the 1990s and worked in Fuyang on an HIV intervention program. Anhui has had many specialists working there, including Professor Zhang Konglai, from Peking Union Medical College (协和医科大学), Wan Yanhai, China’s most famous AIDS activist, and Chang Kun, who is a rising star in Fuyang. Yang Guang still remembers in 2004 when Chang Kun had returned to Anhui from Xinjiang, Wan Yanhai gave him a call and asked him to  pay attention to Chang Kun’s work. Talking about Chang Kun’s growth, Yang Guang breathed a sigh of relief.

Yang Guang also had a full-time opportunity to engage in NGO work. When Save the Children  (救助儿童会) had a dedicated project office in Hefei and Fuyang, they hoped Yang Guang would work with them full time, but he felt he had done so many years of MSM intervention work, he had doubts about changing to the area of child welfare.. Now, he has some regrets; after all, Save the Children is a well-known NGO, and  he now thinks he might have had the chance to work with other HIV organizations after joining Save the Children.

Speaking about the future of the Yang Guang Group, Yang Guang says he has thought about officially registering his group since the policies for NGO registration are more relaxed. Speaking about office space for the group after it registered, he thinks about an empty room in one of his family member’s house  which could be used as an office. But considering everything he owes his family for years of work, he sighs again, and feels anxious about the situation.

If he did manage to register his group, what would be the future direction of its work? Yang Guang thinks the clinic model of Marie Stopes International (玛丽斯特普) could be implemented in Fuyang. Using this model, the service charges of the clinic could be used to support the public interest HIV intervention work. Many members of the MSM community study medicine, and might have difficulty finding other jobs. The money from clinics could be used to offer these individuals jobs. Upon saying this, his bloodshot eyes showed a glimmer of hope.

也许是同性之间的感情在大多数情况下依然难为公众接受,许多从事男男性行为(MSM)艾滋干预工作的组织都在名字上寄托了向往光明、宽容的寓意,安徽阜阳 阳光蓝天公益小组(以下简称“小组”)亦是如此。小组负责人阳光(网名)是阜阳疾病预防控制中心(以下简称“疾控中心”)的工作人员,自1998年起就从事MSM艾滋干预工作,这在当年因记录艾滋血液传播事件而获得奥斯卡最佳纪录片的《颍州的孩子》故事发生地——阜阳地区,令人十分意外。
20世纪90年代中期,阳光从部队退伍后到阜阳疾控中心的前身——地方病防治站做医生,那时候,已有一些专家学者前来调研艾滋传播问题,阳光随之接触并了 解了艾滋病及其传播的严重性。1998年,阳光在阜阳一家电台兼职做热线主持人,在为公众提供健康问题咨询时,有意在节目中穿插一些艾滋基本知识,渐渐的,就有些关注艾滋话题的人士打热线电话进来。当年5月,一位男性听众打电话咨询艾滋之后,讲述了自己的同性爱经历,这是阳光头一次接触MSM群体,他以 一贯热情爽朗的性格与对方交流,为其介绍预防性病艾滋病的知识和措施。当然,那时候的他也有疑惑和不解,就到书刊杂志上寻求答案,由此写信给艾滋领域的专家郭雅琦求教,后者又向他介绍了当时刚开始做同性恋期刊《朋友通讯》的著名医生张北川……经过这一连串的引介,阳光逐渐深入了解MSM群体和他们防治艾滋的注意事项,并用于接触到的MSM人士的问题解决上。由于当时的大环境,那时候阳光主要在安徽省会合肥的同志社区做干预工作,派发防艾宣传资料、安全套和《朋友通讯》杂志等。
与大城市不同,中小城市更多保留了熟人社会的特点,各种亲朋好友关系错综复杂,因此许多有过高危性行为的人对于检测就有很多顾虑,他们往往不愿意也不方便去疾控中心,因为担心遇到相识的人。基于这种考虑,2006年,阳光和一个朋友合伙开了一家名为夜色的公益酒吧,离阜阳颍州区疾病检测中心只有50米,并 成为本地MSM群体固定咨询检测的一个点。考虑到私密性和安全性,酒吧开辟了两间独立的小房间,在宽松的环境下提供咨询检测。当时很多志愿者也是医生或者在疾控中心工作,白天上班,晚上来酒吧提供检测服务。除此之外,酒吧还做同伴教育培训,吧台上摆放大量公益宣传资料,可以随时随地取阅,安全套和润滑剂也随时可以取。基于中小城市相对闭塞的性观念,志愿者们还特别注意在社群中培养安全意识,向人们宣传“包里常备安全套”是一种时尚、负责任的行为,宣传性并 不可耻,可耻的是不安全的性行为。
除此之外,借着工作身份之便,阳光还着力拉近疾控中心等政府组织与MSM群体的关系。他前后向全球基金申请了多笔资金,主要用在联谊的时候请疾控中心和 MSM人群一起做活动,许多疾控中心检测科的工作人员因此深入了解这个群体的情况,和志愿者关系也都非常好。那时候,夜色酒吧声名远播,很多合肥的人都远道而来做检测,阳光也被认为是最早的安徽民间艾滋防治知名人士之一。
在他看来,有些从事艾滋病防治工作的人对感染者带有根深蒂固的偏见和歧视。现如今有些国家单位招考员工的过程中,首先看重的是能力,要求能完成国家需要的数据、报告,能在一流学术刊物上发表论文,却忽视了从事艾滋工作必须具备的爱心和宽容等性格品质,更让他难以释怀的是个别领导本身对艾滋工作也不理解、怀 有偏见。
比这样的当众失言更多见的是对男男性行为群体的曲解,比如个别疾控中心工作人员认为,男男性行为群体,就是女性玩够了再玩男性,因为私生活混乱才会感染艾滋。阜阳下属某县经由同性性行为感染的阳性报告已经达到新发感染者总数的一半,但当地的MSM干预工作却完全无法开展,据说,因为本地某部门领导认为男男 性行为的说法不好听,要求将同性性传播都上报成异性性传播。
除此之外,中小城市的社会心理和氛围也相对成问题。由于小组只能申请到一些零散的活动经费,无法支持全职人员的工作,阳光就希望在阜阳师范学院里成立社团,开展同性恋、艾滋宣传和倡导工作。但联系了之后,发现更多人还是想加入学校里主流的做公益慈善的社团,即便有些人关心同志和艾滋议题,或者怕不能得到 学校的支持,或者怕暴露自己的性取向,都打了退堂鼓;还有感兴趣的学生有些急功近利,提出要先给提供活动经费,才能做事。对此,阳光相当不满,他觉得,做公益慈善哪个不是先付出,才能收到回报,你还没有做事,怎么给你钱?事实上,阳光为了阳光蓝天公益小组的工作,已经搭进去数不清的积蓄。
然而一年过去了,墙角的啤酒都过了期依然没有开箱。阳光说,中小城市的人们不喜欢大城市的活动方式,他们大多不喜欢安安静静地坐着聊天,大多喜欢热闹、喧嚷的酒吧氛围。如今工作室一年9 000元的房租,还有1 000多元的物业费,都从他自己的工资里挤出来——就在笔者与阳光一起走出工作室所在大厦的时 候,楼管还追出来催缴物业费。
付出这么多,前路这么难,要说不做了呢,阳光又不舍得。他在聊天的时候,始终眼圈泛红、布满血丝,因为白天忙工作,晚上都在提供咨询、帮助检测,长期睡眠不足。他反复说,阜阳有那么好的基础,应该走在全国艾滋防治干预的前列:现任国家疾病防控中心性病艾滋病防控中心主任的吴尊友,20世纪90年代刚从美国回来时就在阜阳做艾滋项目;安徽走出去那么多艾滋防治的专家名人,除了吴尊友是安徽人外,还有协和医科大学的张孔来教授、著名艾滋活跃人士万延海,还有后 起之秀的阜阳人常坤。阳光记得,常坤2004年前后刚从新疆回安徽时,万延海还给他电话,让他多关照常坤的工作,说起常坤如今的迅速成长,阳光感叹中流露出一些唏嘘之意。
他也曾经有过专职从事NGO工作的机会。当初救助儿童会在合肥和阜阳都有专门的项目办,曾经希望阳光全职到救助儿童会工作,但他觉得自己做了这么多年 MSM干预工作,对转向儿童救助有点疑虑。现在说起来也有些后悔,毕竟救助儿童会是知名大NGO,也许进去以后还有机会再转到别的艾滋组织工作。

CDB Senior Staff Writer

Translated by Glen Meyerowitz

Reviewed by Daniel Engel

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