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China has finally crowned its first Mr. Gay.
The nation declared Meng Fanyu its first-ever winner after a month-long series of events and performances, reports Pink News.
Fanyu, 27, declared the competition "a great platform to raise awareness of the LGBT community."
This is the inaugural Mr. Gay China -- one arm of an international franchise. Police had shut down a previous attempt to stage the event in 2010.
Organizer Kate Sun said a concentration on "being healthy, positive, and energetic" helped avoid a similar fate this year; HIV testing was also provided throughout. Additionally, the event avoided "links to politics. We just focus on creating fun events," she said.
The successful staging of Mr. Gay China is seen as a coup for LGBT activists in a year of setbacks. Earlier this year, China banned all television programming depicting gay and lesbian couples, introducing guidelines that prohibited portrayals of "abnormal sexual relationships and sexual behavior." The ban also includes incest, sexual assault, extramarital affairs, "witchcraft practices and feudal superstition," and "grotesque criminal cases."
In February, censors declared a web series that featured queer youth in high school, Addicted, as "unfit for viewing." It was banned before it concluded.
Though gay sex was decriminalized in 1997, LGBT people have no protections under the law in China. Same-sex marriage is not legal, and only 39 percent of the country's population believes it should be, according to a recent survey by WorkForLGBT.
But hearts and minds are changing in China's business world, where gay hookup apps have become a popular investment. The Beijing Kunlun Tech Company was "excited" to invest $93 million in Grindr earlier this year; another app, Blued, has as many as 27 million users, making it the largest of its kind worldwide.
However, the closet remains an enduring obstacle. Only 5 percent of Blued's users are out, says a recent survey. Even many of the Mr. Gay China contestants are still closeted.
"Many people don't really know what LGBT is, and coming out can still be difficult, so you really have to prove yourself to be an upstanding person," said Fanyu.