HRC Blog

China Takes a Landmark Gay Conversion Case

Post submitted by  Yushuang Sun, HRC Global Engagement Intern 

Last Thursday, Beijing court heard a landmark case on “gay conversion” therapy. An openly gay man sued a psychological clinic for performing electronic shock therapy to turn him straight. It’s the first time a lawsuit of this kind has been staged in China.

Five members from the Beijing LGBT Center organized a brief demonstration outside the court ahead of the Thursday’s hearing, holding banners with slogans, including "Homosexuality is not a disease; we don't need to be cured." One of the protesters said they hope this case would help change the public perception of gays as suffering from mental illness in China.

Nearly every major medical and mental health association in the United States has denounced the dangerous practice of reparative or "conversion" therapy. The limited research on such efforts has disproven their efficacy, and also has indicated that they can be affirmatively harmful. 

China declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 2001 but widespread intolerance of homosexuality remains. A 2013 Pew poll found that 57% of China’s population was against the acceptance of homosexuality and only 21% in favor. Those who have come out often face significant family and societal pressure to undergo sexuality treatment or wed a partner of opposite sex.

LGBT rights are also ignored on the political front. Chinese government adopts a “don’t support, don’t ban, don’t promote” attitude on homosexuality. Despite years of citizen petitions for same-sex partnerships and anti-discrimination legislation, the government has never responded with a public statement. Moreover, the government has constantly rejected applications for registering LGBT advocacy groups, stating that homosexuality was “against spiritual civilization construction” and “in violation of morals.”

Despite all these obstacles, Chinese LGBT activists are fighting back. In just its sixth year, Shanghai Pride has become a major celebratory event for the gay community in China. The week-long festival features art exhibits, panel discussions, and a marathon picnic to push awareness around LGBT issues including marriage equality, sexual health and societal acceptance. 

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