efe-epaShanghai, China

In recent days, the lives of the people in Raffle Zhao's family have gone through an irreversible change, all aboard a cruise ship.

The 25-year-old student told his parents he was gay - something quite unacceptable in traditional Chinese society, that still perceives homosexuality as a disease or a passing fad - on a cruise voyage organized by the not-for-profit organization Pflag.

"I was extremely nervous but an hour after telling them, I felt relieved," Zhao told EFE after he got an opportunity to reveal the uneasy truth to his family thanks to the nonprofit's advocacy on gays coexisting with family.

Besides four days of discussions with experts, experience-sharing sessions and games out on the open sea, the voyage also witnessed a mass wedding of nine couples from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.

"I thought it was a very good opportunity to tell them because on this trip they could spend time with other parents of LGBT members," Zhao spoke of his parents, explaining that while his father has more or less come to terms with his sexual orientation, his mother has yet to accept it.

But he is convinced the Shanghai-Sasebo (Japan) sea voyage will help change her mind after she had a chance to speak to mothers of fellow gay people.

Although same-sex sexual activity has been legal in China since 1997, and was declassified as a mental disorder in 2001, a majority of Chinese continue to see it as a condition that needs to be cured, or a family tragedy particularly in a patriarchal society like China.

Zhao is one of the daring few, given that almost 95 percent of the 30,000 LGBT people in China surveyed in 2016 by the United Nations Development Programme said they preferred not to disclose their sexual orientation even among their own circles.

China is estimated to have around 70 million LGBT people; yet many of them choose to stay in heterosexual marriages, pretending to be straight, Ah Qiang, a Pflag China co-founder, told EFE.

"In China, coming out of the closet is very difficult...but many parents who have accepted the fact collaborate with the organization and share their stories, thus helping other parents change their outlook on the matter," he explained.

Family acceptance, Ah said, is one of the most important things to change society as a whole, and it was for this reason that the cruise - with 800 participants on the first journey of its kind - put the spotlight on the parents of LGBT people.

A participant, 48-year-old Xiu Jiu Hui, who was furious when she first learned her daughter was a lesbian, has now come to change her view.

"I saw many parents like myself and many children like my daughter, and came to realize it was not a disease or a bad thing, and that it was I who needed to change," she recalled.

Aries Liu, 30, said being embraced by one's parents are far more significant than societal acceptance.

"We can ignore the opinions of other people, but those of our own parents are very important," said the young transgender who took part in the symbolic mass wedding on the waters of the South China Sea.

By Paula Escalada Medrano