Landmark lawsuit victory
inspires China’s gay community
By Wang Ruoyao, Yuan Suwen and Mou Xu
A Beijing court backed a gay man’s demands for compensation and an open apology from a clinic that tried to “turn him straight”.
The landmark “gay conversion” case has inspired the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The Haidian District People’s Court on Friday of December 19 ordered the Xinyupiaoxiang Clinic, which performed hypnosis and electric shock treatment on Xiao Zhen, 31, (not his real name), to cover his therapy-related costs of 3,500 yuan (563 U.S. dollars).
The court stated that homosexuality was not a mental disorder and the clinic’s claim that it could “treat homosexuality” was false advertising.
“This victory tells us that we should speak up in the face of unfairness and discrimination, and that the legal system works,” said Nan Feng, who heads a grassroots AIDS/HIV organization in southwest China’s Chongqing City, where the clinic is based.
Nan Feng said the clinic’s director had used entrapment techniques, on a bulletin board set up by the organization, to attract young gay men and subsequently get them to sign up to his clinic for conversion treatment.
Despite homosexuality becoming more socially accepted, especially after it was removed from the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders in 2001, many LGBT struggle with family pressure and social stigma.
Therefore, there has been a rise in “homosexuality treatment”, said Hu Zhijun, executive director of PFLAG China, an organization aimed at eliminating the stigma attached to sexual minorities.
Hu said although this one case would not put an end to this lucrative business, it would deter practitioners, promote public understanding of sexual minorities and prevent aversion therapy.
“It can serve as a powerful reference for gay children feeling pressure from their families to undergo such therapy,” Hu said, adding that parents were easily misled by the “curing” aspect of such clinics since they placed more trust in “professionals” than their own children.
Unlike those who undergoes electric shock treatment in an effort to be straight, Xiao Zhen, who has worked for a Beijing-based gay rights group since 2010, said he did so to make his parents understand that he could not change his sexual orientation.
“I didn’t believe it would work, but my parents insisted. They need a clear answer, so I tries,” he told Xinhua, describing the treatment he had in February as “traumatizing”.
The clinic’s director first hypnotized Xiao Zhen for 20 minutes while preaching on the harms of sexuality. Then Xiao Zhen was asked to imagine homosexual activity while being electrocuted.
“I was unprepared and frightened, so I shouted out. [The doctor] smiled and said my reaction was just what he expected,” Xiao Zhen said.
Xiao Zhen’s experience cost 500 yuan, however, the clinic offers a 30,000-yuan package of five-stage treatments, which includes about 100 electric shocks.
“It was really terrifying. When I recounted the experience in the court in July, my body was shaking, even five months after! Fortunately I’ve recovered and it’s okay to recall the experience now,” he said.
Xiao Zhen secretly recorded his treatment on his cell phone.
“It was the first time I had visited a psychological clinic. I did the recording in case something bad happened,” he explained.
After he returned to Beijing from Chongqing, he learned that many gay men had undergone the same horrific treatment. “They said if they refused, their parents would cut their financial support or disown them.”
Xiao Zhen was the first to take legal action against “gay conversion” therapy, said Hu Zhijun, “the majority [won’t take the issue to court] over privacy concerns. But the younger generation are braver than their older gay peers.”
Gay rights advocates are anticipating further success.
A gay man in Shenzhen City, in south China’s Guangdong Province, is suing a local design company that dismissed him after an online video clip “exposed” his sexual orientation in November.
Billed as the country’s first case involving job discrimination based on sexuality, it was accepted by the city’s Nanshan District People’s Court on Monday.
Discrimination against the gay community remains acute in employment and health care, said Nan Feng.
“Some who revealed their sexual orientation in the workplace said they had no choice but to quit, because they could not bear the behavior of their colleagues toward them,” he said.