Student sues Chinese government over textbooks that claim gays need electroshock therapy

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A student is suing the Chinese Ministry of Education – because textbooks in her university refer to homosexuality as a disorder.

Chen Qiuyan, a 20-year-old student at a university in southern Guangdong province, filed legal action this month over books that suggest homosexuality is a condition that can be cured by electroshock therapy.

She filed the lawsuit under an alias – but subsequently spoke to the New York Times about her struggles being gay in China.

Despite the Chinese Psychiatric Association declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness back in 2001, a psychology textbook published in 2013 told her: “Sexual orientation disorder is a sexual psychological disorder that involves being sexually attracted to abnormal objects. It includes pedophilia, zoophilia, necrophilia and homosexuality.”

The student said: “I thought textbooks must be authoritative,… after reading them, I was terrified. I was even more afraid to admit that I’m gay.

“Homosexuals are already under great pressure. Additional stigma from textbooks will cause direct harm. The ministry should bear the duty to monitor and supervise such content.

“Speaking from my personal experience, these textbooks would definitely upset gay students,” she said. “And I later learned that gay people across the country have been hurt by this kind of textbook.”

After she complained about the books to the Ministry of Education and recieved no response, this month Ms Chen filed a case with the Beijing No 1 Intermediate Court, which was accepted.

The Ministry of Education declined to comment on the case.

However, Ms Chen’s lawyer Wang Zhenyu is hopeful that the case could start discussion in the country, where gay rights are still taboo.

He said: “It will push the government to adhere to the regulations on open access to information and to exercise proper oversight over textbooks.

“What’s more, it will spark discussions about the discrimination homosexuals still face.”