In what could be a watershed moment of global proportions a court has agreed to hear China’s first same-sex marriage case. Homosexuality is not illegal in China but same-sex couples have no legal protection. The country itself is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, which until 2001 was listed as a mental disorder and considered “spiritual pollution.”

The case will be heard within six months. Today, an emerging gay community is busting Chinese stereotypes. There are gay support groups and web sites helping people explore their sexuality and meet potential partners.

Gay venues are popping up in most cities. In 2010 Shanghai held its first Gay Pride Week. There is no religious condemnation and anti-gay violence is rare. A Mr. Gay China pageant was even planned in Beijing. It did not happen. The police shut down the contest hours before it was to open, but significantly, even if not realistically, they simply said that the nightclub hosting the event had failed to follow proper permitting procedures, and no exceptions would be made.

But what did not happen was as important as what happened. No one got arrested, humiliated, or hauled off in handcuffs. The police cited the bar for not having a license or permits. Change will be slow but it is in motion and gaining momentum.

In China, gay rights have been progressing for a decade now. A notable change occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s with the removal of “hooliganism” from the criminal law, a de facto decriminalization of homosexuality. In April 20, 2001, the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders formally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Even the first government-backed gay bar opened in southwestern Yunnan.

The Chinese Government explained that the reason behind the bar is to promote AIDS Awareness. The bar is meant to be an educational hot spot for folks to help address rising HIV rates in China’s Yunnan province. The city of Dali where the bar is located is on the top ten lists of Chinese cities with the largest number of HIV cases. The media flocked to the small city on opening night.

A couple of years ago a gay dating app called Blued was launched, users can post daily messages and photos, profiles include age, height, preferred sexual positions and blood type (which is associated with compatibility in China). Most users opt for pseudonyms. Like most apps it has a geolocation feature that calculates the distance between two users. Once the closet doors start bursting open the gay community in China will be the largest in the world. Activists said that the court’s acceptance of the same-sex marriage case is encouraging because signals some official willingness to address discrimination against LGBT people. From the standpoint of improving visibility and awareness this case is no doubt already a victory.