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China has seen great changes in attitudes towards homosexuality in the past few decades. Although there’s still a long way to go before they have gain equality with heterosexuals, Chinese gay people who once lived a grim life against legal and social judgements are receiving more acceptance throughout society.

Gay life in China is now both legal and undisguised, in the cities at least. The spread of tolerance has led to more services targeting the gay community; and, driven by this trend, Chinese investors have set their eyes on this fast-emerging market.

As the news of Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly coming out hit the headlines at the beginning of this month, Blued, a social app for male homosexuals in China, announced another US$30 million of Series B funding led by DCM, just eight months after receiving US$1.6 million in Series A funding in February.

Geng Le, founder of the company and (perhaps not surprisingly) gay himself, started Danlan, a virtual community for homosexuals in China in 2000. The company pivoted to focus on location-based gay hook-up app Blued to capitalize on the rise of mobile internet. Geng disclosed that Blued now has over 15 million users, of which 3 million come from overseas, ousting Grindr (which claimed 10 million users) from the top spot of same-sex match-making apps worldwide.

The startup’s founder cited reports that there are as many as 70 million gay people in China. He also believes that gay people are generally higher paid, and have strong purchasing power. However, the businesses and industry infrastructure serving this community is only now taking form.

Chinese gay dating apps are trying to expand commercially via the O2O industry, in cooperation with gay bars and cafes. Moreover, increasing numbers of brands and e-commerce platforms are more willing to cooperate with gay apps, thanks to more relaxed public attitudes towards gay people, especially on the internet. According to Geng, gay men have their own consumption preferences and art tastes; therefore, companies can partner with gay-related services to celebrate their special value and cultural diversification. Blued also participated, for example, in the production of LGBT-themed film Like Love to promote the gay culture.

Since there is still few Chinese LGBT people who are open with their sexual orientation, it is very difficult for the relevant authorities to monitor the trends here. Blued has played a major role as the communication channel between regional disease control authorities and gay groups when performing surveys and charity projects.

Given that Chinese gay groups are more active than those for lesbians, apps for homosexuals are usually male-dominated, according to a report. Consequently, investment has poured into male hook-up services. Zank, a major competitor of Blued, pocked a multi-million US dollar funding round in July this year. Gee Yuu is another app that has netted investment. Despite the imbalance in market coverage, it is a pretty good starting point for the development of the LGBT market, all things considered. Zank’s subsidiary Laven is one of the first apps for gay women in China.

image credit: iheima.com