Advocates hail Chinese court decision to take on gay ‘therapy’ case

A Beijing-based gay rights organization tells Al Jazeera the decision is a sign of tolerance

A Beijing court has agreed to hear a case against a Chinese clinic that says it can turn gay men straight with hypnosis, a rights group familiar with the case told Al Jazeera on Thursday, marking the first time a court in China has taken up such a suit.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Advocacy China, an organization that operates without government supervision in the nation’s capital, said that a man is suing Xinyu Piaoxiang, a clinic in the southern metropolis of Chongqing that offers “gay conversion” hypnosis, along with Baidu, a Google-like Web service where the procedure was advertised.

Xinyu Piaoxiang and Baidu were not immediately available for comment.

The staff at the court in Beijing’s Haidian district that agreed to hear the case were not immediately available for comment.

“Before, Chinese courts would have never taken on such a case,” said Xiao Chuan, a member of the LGBT rights group. He uses a pseudonym to avoid government retribution for the organization’s extralegal status.

“It’s a sign of tolerance” on the part of the Chinese government toward LGBT Chinese, he added.

The decision comes after years of mental health and gay rights activists around the world advocating against conversion therapy.

“To date, there are no scientifically rigorous outcome studies to determine either the actual efficacy or harm of ‘reparative’ treatments,” the American Psychiatric Association said in a 2000 position statement emailed to Al Jazeera.

The man filing the lawsuit, whose name the LGBT organization withheld out of respect for the pending legal proceedings, has charged that not only did the therapy not work, but he suffered significant psychological damage as a result.

Until 2001, homosexuality was officially classified as a mental illness in China. Still, Xiao Chuan says clinics throughout the country advertise conversion therapies designed to make members of China’s queer community — who face great social pressure — heterosexual.

In February, the Chinese branch of international gay rights organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays sent a letter to China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan asking for her support in the fight to secure rights for China’s Queer community.

In an example of such efforts perhaps making a dent, in December, the CEO of Chinese gay smartphone app Blued said the government had not opposed his efforts to develop a homegrown alternative to popular international counterparts like Grindr and Jack’d. 

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