A gay Chinese man said Thursday that he was suing a psychological clinic for carrying out electric shocks intended to turn him straight, a process known as conversion therapy. He also said he was suing the search engine giant Baidu for advertising the center.
Yang Teng, 30, said that the therapy given to him included hypnosis and electric shock and that he was left physically and mentally hurt. He said he voluntarily underwent the therapy in February after receiving pressure from his parents to get married and have a child.
"My hometown is a small city. People there still care about carrying on the family line," Yang said, adding that now he can finally accept his homosexuality.
Chinese society is increasingly accepting of gays and lesbians, although same-sex partnerships are not recognized and no laws outlaw discrimination against sexual minorities. The country declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 2001.
The Beijing LGBT Center, which campaigns for gay rights, said this was the first court case involving conversion therapy in China. There have been similar cases in the United States, where some states have banned the practice.
The center organized a demonstration outside the court ahead of Thursday's hearing, with a handful of people holding banners with slogans including "Homosexuality is not a disease, we don't need to be cured."
The center’s executive director, Xin Ying, pretended to be a doctor giving another demonstrator who was lying on the sidewalk electric shock treatment.
Xin said some professional hospitals in China, as well as smaller private clinics, still provide conversion therapy and that the group hopes the case at the Haidian District People's Court in Beijing will lead to a ban on the therapy.
Yang's lawyer, Li Duilong, said Yang was suing the Chongqing Xinyu Piaoxiang clinic for infringing his personal and health rights because it told him electric shock treatment was not dangerous. Li also said that Baidu bore joint liability because it carried an advertisement for the clinic.
Li said part of their argument was that homosexuality is not a disease and should not be treated.
"According to the law, both sides should sign an agreement before electric shock or hypnosis is carried out, but [the clinic] did not offer," he said.
“The staff told my client the electric shock felt like ‘being bit by a mosquito,’ but it turned out not to be.”
The lawyer said they were asking for compensation of more than $2,300 to cover the cost of the therapy, the plane journey to Chongqing and lost earnings because of the trip. In addition, they are demanding an apology on the websites of both companies, he said.
Li said a judgment should be given within six months.
A man reached at the clinic in southwest Chongqing city said he had no comment and hung up the phone. Baidu said in an emailed statement that it doesn't comment on cases that are in process.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press