One of China's Early AIDS Heroes Hounded into Hiding Identity

PHOTO: Dawei Tian in an interview with the State media China Central Television many years ago.

In 2005, Dawei Tian was sitting on an airplane, writing a movie script about a gay man with HIV. It was the story of his life. He was proud to be traveling around the country by airplane (something his parents had never done) giving speeches and being interviewed about his experience and attitudes.

Dawei was the first Chinese man to admit his sexual orientation and HIV-positive status on state television.

"I told the TV station there was no need to hide my face or voice, I wanted to use my real name because I wanted to show the audience the real me: sunny, happy and normal. I wanted to educate them that gay men are normal people as well, and that HIV carriers are not terrifying," he told ABC News recently.

After a glamorous time on TV and giving speeches, Dawei looked forward to helping people have a better understanding of what it means to be a gay man and HIV carrier. He thought he would make a lot of friends and that he would be famous.

That didn't happen. China was not ready to accept a gay lifestyle and AIDS still carried a strong stigma.

In the years since, Dawei's parents have been ostracized. Family and friends believed he did something immoral and shameful. Dawei was pressured to leave his apartment by the landlord who offered him two month's rent and extra 500RMB, about $80. He was fired by his company and couldn't get another job. When the gay community in the city he was living in found out he carries HIV, he found he could not get a date.

Today Dawei lives in another city under a fake name. The backlash was so fierce that he has abandoned the lesson he was preaching. When asked by ABC News, "Would you tell your partner you are an HIV carrier when you have sex?" Dawei answered, "Of course not."

Dawei is not alone in China. According to a report released by the Ministry of Health right before World Aids Day in 2012, between January and October of 2012, there have been almost 70,000 newly-registered HIV and AIDS cases. The report says sexual transmission is responsible for 85 percent of the cases.

Dawei remembered that when he first came to Beijing. He met a man on the internet. It was the first time Dawei felt normal, that he wasn't the only one in this world interested in men and that he did not have to repress his feelings anymore.

"I knew nothing about safe sex or protecting myself. I thought AIDS was so far away from me," he remembers. "At that time I only knew condoms were used for contraception. I would never get pregnant with another man, so I thought it was not necessary," said Dawei.

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