Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

GAO to the Rescue: China Didn't Want Her to Leave, but AIDS Activist GAO Yaojie Came to the U.S. to Accept a Well-Deserved Award

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

GAO to the Rescue: China Didn't Want Her to Leave, but AIDS Activist GAO Yaojie Came to the U.S. to Accept a Well-Deserved Award

Article excerpt

Chinese AIDS activist Gao Yaojie was under house arrest for 20 days before being allowed to travel to Washington, D.C., in March to accept a Human Rights Award from the U.S. women's group Vital Voices Global Partnership. But it was Beijing's failure to fund her efforts to fight AIDS in rural China that drew her strongest criticism.

"Not a dime!" said the frail-looking woman with a deeply lined face, thick glasses, and feet tiny from having been bound in the Chinese tradition that was still fashionable during her youth. But Gao is anything but frail. For more than a decade the retired gynecologist has been one of the most outspoken voices against the spread of HIV and AIDS in China.

That outspokenness has cost her. In efforts to stanch further embarrassment over her exposure of China's rural AIDS epidemic, the national government had twice previously barred Gao from receiving humanitarian awards overseas. Officials this time bowed to international pressure, including a letter sent by Sen. Hillary Redham Clinton.

"I'm an 80-year-old woman and I fear nothing now," said Gao, who has survived war, famine, and political repression. "What concerns me the most now is my family's safety. I am responsible for everything I say and do," she told The Advocate.

In 1996, Gao was poised to retire. Then she diagnosed her first AIDS patient, a 42-year-old woman in Henan, infected by a blood transfusion she had received a year before. Further investigation exposed a government-endorsed practice of buying blood from the poor. …

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