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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Hundreds of gay men and women, some with rainbow flags painted on their faces, turned out for Shanghai's first gay pride festival Saturday to celebrate with cocktails, drag shows and a hot body contest.
There was no parade, and the crowd paled in comparison with similar events in Sydney or San Francisco, but some people detect a more international, open-minded attitude in China's financial capital as it prepares to host next year's World Expo and aspires to become a global financial center.
"I don't think China is very conservative now. Shanghai is developing very fast and it's becoming more and more international," said Amy Lin, a 17-year-old from Taiwan who joined Saturday's festivities.
The crowd was heavy on expatriates and English speakers, rather than typical Shanghainese.
The pride day events also included traditional Chinese dance performances by drag artists flashing fans and feathers. A few events earlier in the week, including a film screening and a play, were abruptly canceled due to a lack of proper licenses.
"We've organized events in the past, social events for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, wine tastings, book club, pub crawls, drag shows. But this is the first time that we've done it all in one week and call it a gay pride festival," said Hannah Miller, a co-organiser.
The event received some favorable advance publicity in China's official English-language press.
"The festival is being hailed for making the (LGBT) community more 'visible'," the official China Daily wrote earlier this week, drawing comparisons with U.S. President Barack Obama designating June as National Gay Pride Month.
Miller said she hoped the event could appeal to a broad array of people.
"We're definitely not trying to make it a festival for foreigners. We want it to be something that everyone feels comfortable coming to and that can raise the awareness about the LGBT community in Shanghai for locals and foreigners, straights and gays."
One party-goer, a 27-year-old who gave his name only as Joe, compared the event to gay pride gatherings in the West.
"Coming from Sydney, this is considered quite small, because a big day out like this in Sydney will try about 5,000 to 6,000 people in the park," he said.
"I think one step at a time."
Writing by Edmund Klamann; Editing by Matthew Jones