EARLIEST ENTREPRENEURIAL MEMORY: Over 20 years ago, when I was still a closeted policeman, I set up Danlan, one of China’s first online forum for gay men. A police officer at day time, a founder of a gay website at night. PEOPLE I ADMIRE: Barack Obama and Tim Cook.
From one man to 70 million+
CREATING SPACES TO THRIVE. Ma Baoli, or Geng Le, as he is more commonly known, is the founder of Blued, one of the world’s largest gay dating apps. But Geng Le wants to do more than just help gay men in China find love. “I hope to help everyone lead healthier and brighter lives,” Geng Le says. That means redefining the kind of lives LGBT people can lead in the country.
For the longest time, being gay in China was considered a perversion and a gateway to contracting HIV, Geng Le says. That kind of mentality has left gay people struggling just to survive, let alone thrive, he says. Being able to lead a normal life had felt out of reach for so long. This inspired Geng Le to expand Blued into its parent company, BlueCity, which provides services to help LGBT individuals regain their confidence toward normalcy. Whether it’s online dating or HIV and health services, BlueCity brings services to the LGBT community that straight people have had without needing to bat an eyelid.
Geng Le recalls how in the early days, his gay blog Danlan — which included a message board, personals, novels and discussions and was wildly popular — would frequently get shut down. Its success ultimately led to Geng Le choosing to quit his job as a high-rising policeman in his hometown of Qinhuangdao, a coastal city in northern China. Geng Le has come a long way since the Danlan days, where with two friends and a mortgage on his house and car, he cobbled together a resource for the gay community. Today, BlueCity has over 700 employees, raised $85 million with its IPO and is available in 13 languages and 170 countries.
A MOMENTUM THAT BLOWS INTO WHIRLWIND. Just as the internet broke down barriers to finding love, it helped break down lingering stereotypes of the LGBT community, Geng Le says. “Gay people could only get to know other gay men in public bathrooms and I wanted to change that.”
In the beginning, BlueCity’s employees were afraid of coming out or being outed, and did not want their photos taken. Even its investors were asking questions like why someone was gay, what does a gay person look like, Geng Le recalls. “We had to constantly explain that we’re born this way, and that we were not perverts.”
With repeated messaging on the internet that LGBT culture is just normal culture, change has been dramatic. It gets better day-by-day, especially with younger people, Geng Le says. “We now have a younger generation thinking it’s fine to be gay, and that gay guys are handsome—that’s a welcome change.”
But even with all this change, BlueCity’s work to help the LGBT community continues. BlueCity launched “He Health” in 2019, an online healthcare platform dedicated to men’s health issues. Covering LGBTQ as well as the straight communities, it has promoted awareness of men’s health and HIV prevention to millions of users in China, and its services have gradually expanded from sexually transmitted diseases to the field of men’s everyday well-being. “When the LGBT community can lead healthier and happier lives, it will be easier for society to accept us as we are,” he says.