The Rules: No Pics, No Drugs, No Judgments

Being openly gay in China is one of the country's biggest taboos, but you wouldn't know it stepping into Destination, Beijing's hottest gay club.

Nicknamed "Desperation," this dance club and lounge, with its thumping bass, beautiful people, flowing cocktails and bouncing hydraulic dance floor -- seems at first like a typical weekend hot spot .

But it's far from the usual Chinese nightclub.

While there would be nothing remarkable about Destination in the United States, here the club stands apart. Self-labeled "Beijing's finest bar venue for the alternative crowd," Destination is often the only place in Beijing where young gay men can reveal their true selves.

This is part nine in's 10-part special series on nightlife around the world. Click here every weekday through May 9, 2008 for the latest story.

And in order for them to feel safe, two basic rules are posted prominently on every wall: no photography, and no drugs.

Emilio Liu, a Chinese undergraduate student in Beijing, says Destination is his place to not only relax and dance, but to find himself.

"I'm still trying to figure it all out," he said on a Friday night at the club. "I'm not sure what I am, but I know I'm not straight. Maybe bi, maybe gay. So I come here to hang out and meet people."

Declining to give his name, a 23-year-old accountant for Pricewaterhouse Coopers comes to Destination every weekend because of its open and comfortable atmosphere. He first checked out the club when he moved from his hometown of Chongqing, an inland city in south central China, to attend college in Beijing.

"Everyone's the same here. Everyone's gay. Sure, we go to mainstream clubs and bars too, but Destination is a more natural setting for us," he said. "And the dancing is great."

Destination has enjoyed relatively unfettered business in Beijing. Its clientele is overwhelmingly male; less than 5 percent of its customers are women.

Out to Friends but Not to Parents

China's gay and lesbian population is, by some unofficial estimates, between 30 million and 50 million. But much of this population stays in the closet.

Many gay and lesbian Chinese say that, more than the government, traditional family values and social conservatism have discouraged them from disclosing their sexual orientation.

"China is more traditional. Parents hope their children will develop normally, so most won't accept homosexuality," the 23-year-old accountant explained over Destination's pumping music.

He recently started his job at Pricewaterhouse Coopers in Beijing and has yet to feel pressure from his parents, who live thousands of miles away in Chongqing.

"If your parents are very modern and understanding, then it's great to come out. But that is not the case. Not saying anything can help everyone avoid feeling unnecessary pain," he said.

"I have one friend who has come out of the closet. To his friends' surprise, his parents have really understood him," he added. "Another friend, though, his parents didn't receive the news well. They can't accept it, or control their reaction. If I don't tell my parents, it's easier."

One of this accountant's friends is a Beijing college student who's even more pragmatic about his sexuality. He also declined to give his name for the interview.

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