Boysky’s Reading Room provides life-saving anonymous HIV testing and support. Anna Leach speaks to the centre’s manager, Tian Long.
Some people who talk about gay rights only say and don’t do. We do a lot but don’t say much.
With inviting cream sofas, scattered plastic tables and chairs and magazine racks, Boysky’s Reading Room has the look of a funky new café. That’s deliberate – the space is designed to be a pleasant hangout for browsing gay books, magazines and films, with a spot of HIV testing on the side.
The centre, which takes its name from one of the earliest Chinese gay websites (www.boysky.com), deliberately keeps the HIV testing side of their services low-key. ‘There are some people who talk a lot about gay rights, but they only say and don’t do,’ says the reading room’s manager Tian Long. ‘We do a lot but don’t say much.’ Tian, like all staff at the centre, works for free, fitting his management of the reading room around his full time job. His motivation, he says, comes from his faith as a Buddhist.
Every week about 40 to 50 people come to the centre to be tested. Tian has seen a steady increase in the number of people coming to be tested, partly through the volunteers’ outreach work encouraging gay men to have regular checks. At the same time, more people are being diagnosed positive, although the increase is even, rather than dramatic. ‘When a person is tested positive, we usually try and get everyone that he has had relations with to come in and have a check as well,’ says Tian. ‘In that situation, we may suddenly have three or four being tested positive a day. Otherwise it’s maybe one a day.’
When someone is diagnosed HIV positive, the centre provides counselling and a peer support group. ‘They may have notions of suicide and often begin to isolate themselves from people without HIV, so our peer support group really helps,’ says Tian. ‘They might not listen to doctors, but they will listen to each other.’
The Chinese government has a policy of free HIV testing and free drugs for HIV positive people, but this programme comes with a caveat.
HIV testing is available (no appointment necessary) at Boysky Reading Room, Sunny Library, First Floor, Xuhui Public Health Centre, 50 Yongchuan Lu, near Shilong Lu, Xuhui district (136 2178 6609, 135 6496 1538). Open 9-11am Mon and Fri, 1-4pm Wed. Shilong Lu. 徐汇区永川路50号,近石龙路 If you’d like to volunteer (Chinese speakers only) contact Tian Long on 133 7183 0253.