A Chinese court has handed China's LGBT community an important victory by ruling in favor of the victim of a "conversion therapy" clinic in the southeastern city of Chongqing, reports The New York Times.
The Xinyupiaoxiang Counseling Center will have to pay 3,400 renminbi (roughly $560 USD) as compensation for Yang Teng, who is gay and only went to the clinic — which claims to be able to turn gay people straight — to please his parents.
Significantly, the court also ruled that Chinese search engine Baidu must remove the advertisement that led Yang's family to the clinic.
Yang told the Times he believes the verdict "has inspired a lot of gay people."
"It shows them that we don’t need to be cured, and when things like this happen and we look to protect our rights from being violated, we can get a fair result," he added.
China's largest search engine will change its approach to groups offering so-called conversion therapy, Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo told the Times, though he stopped short of saying it will ban such advertising entirely.
"We'll be very vigilant in the future about advertisements for false treatments for 'gay therapy,'" Kaiser said. "We sincerely hope Yang Teng finds some solace in the court's decision."
The decision is historic in the Asian country where homosexuality is not technically illegal, but still faces substantial social stigma, the executive director of the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute told the Times.
"The court said homosexuality is not a disease," said Wei Xiaogang. "This is the first case really talking about homosexuality, so it’s really going to give people the legal support they need to fight back against these clinics."
Discredited Practice Is Torture, Not Therapy
The practice of so-called conversion therapy has been discredited in the mainstream international medical community. Samantha Ames, an attorney at the U.S.-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, recently asked the United Nations in Geneva to include such efforts to change people's sexual orientation or gender identity in its Convention Against Torture.
Ames noted that a 2009 report by the American Psychological Association, which examined the unscientific, ineffective therapy practices, found that practitioners used tactics intended to equate being LGBT with pain, including electric shock treatment, and inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images. Other tactics involved having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts, using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions, and satiation therapy.
Growing LGBT Acceptance in China
Chinese news media outlets have generally framed stories about LGBT issues positively recently, says Richard Burger, author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China. Still, "filial piety" and the pressure to have children means for most Chinese people, "coming out is simply not viewed as a possibility."
After decades of LGBT oppression during and immediately following the Cultural Revolution, China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997. In 2001, the government declassified being lesbian, gay, or bisexual as a mental illness.
China Law Blog reports that Chinese media has embarked on a bit of a love affair with the bright images of symbolic gay weddings, the first of which took place near Tiananmen Square in 2009. But social and familial stigma surrounding same-sex marriage and LGBT identities remains pervasive, leading China Law Blog attorney Dan Harris to speculate that marriage equality is still many years away from becoming a reality in China.