A Beijing court on Thursday heard a landmark case on “gay conversion” treatment, while outside the courtroom an activist in a nurse’s uniform knelt over a patient, wielding a giant needle. “Homosexuality doesn’t need to be cured!” chanted supporters. “Haidian Court, oppose conversion therapy!”
Homosexuality was de-classified as a mental disorder in China in 2001 but widespread intolerance toward gays and lesbians remains, and activists hailed the unprecedented case as a significant step forward.
The plaintiff, who is gay and has given his name only as Xiao Zhen, says the Xinyu Piaoxiang clinic in Chongqing traumatised him when he was electro-shocked after being told to have sexual thoughts involving men.
He is also taking action against China’s top Internet search engine, Baidu, for running advertisements by the facility.
Those who come out to friends and family in China often face significant pressure to undergo sexuality “treatment” or marry a partner of the opposite sex.
“It’s the first case about anti-conversion therapy in China,” said Xiao Tie, 28, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, which is backing the legal action.
Most people who claim that they have been successfully “converted” by the therapy only say so in order to stop the distressing treatments, she added.
Conversion therapy has more than a century of history around the world, but has fallen out of favour with medical authorities.
Nonetheless the industry persists in countries from Singapore to the US. The Beijing court is expected to rule on the case in a month.