Electroshock therapy was once commonly administered to gay people in the U.S. in an attempt to “cure” them — and it’s still being used in some countries, including China, as documented in a report that aired tonight on U.K. television.
Shaunagh Connaire of Britain’s Channel 4 reported on the distressing situation in an episode of the foreign affairs series Unreported World.
Connaire went from a part of the world that is embracing LGBT equality to one where the situation of LGBT people “is somewhat darker,” she told Elle U.K. She saw “clinics that offer gay conversion therapy, sometimes even electroshock therapy, as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality,” she said. This practice continues even though the Chinese Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental illness in 2001.
John Shen (pictured above with Connaire), a leader of the Beijing LGBT Centre, and his colleagues are seeking to expose those clinics, but it’s dangerous work in a nation “whose intelligence simply cannot be outmaneuvered,” Connaire noted. Filming was difficult too.
“Early on in the shoot we learned that the authorities were aware of our presence in China and from then on we were forced to employ cloak and dagger techniques during each scene we captured,” she told Elle. “But John, who constantly endures this level of anxiety, persevered, as he believes in the greater good of what he and his colleagues are doing for the other 30 million gay people living in China.”
Connaire and her director were warned that the government would probably confiscate their footage before they left China, but they managed to get home with the film and put together their report. She wondered, she added, if exposing the clinics was worth putting Shen and his fellow activists in further danger. But their courage convinced her, she said.
“Now I speak to John regularly,” she concluded, “not as our star character but as my friend who has taught me that bravery is everything and it’s worth fighting for what we believe in.”
Watch a clip from the episode below. You can view the full episode at Channel 4's website (sign-in required).