Homosexuality can still be called a mental disorder in China, court rules

Maggie Baska
·3-min read

A court in China‘s eastern Jiangsu province has ruled in favour of a publisher that described homosexuality as a “psychological disorder” in a university textbook.

The Suyu District Intermediate Court in the city of Suqian said the description of homosexuality under “common psychosexual disorders” – along with cross-dressing and fetishism – results from “perceptual differences” and was not a factual error, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The ruling upheld a previous judgment made in September last year against the plaintiff Ou Jiayong, also known by the pseudonym Xixi.

Xixi, 24, first encountered the psychology textbook while studying at the South China Agricultural University in 2016. She told the New York Times that she was “deeply stung” when she read the textbook as she identifies as a lesbian.

Xixi sued the publisher of the textbook and the online retailer that stocks it in 2017, demanding the texts remove the reference and publicly apologise.

But her legal battle has ultimately been unsuccessful. Xixi told the South China Morning Post that the court’s decision about what constituted a “factual error” was “random and baseless”. She believed the evidence that she provided to the court was enough to prove the description of homosexuality as a mental disorder was wrong, but said the ruling could be a way to “reduce controversy”.

“But it [the ruling] has also allowed textbooks that pathologise homosexuality to continue circulating, which is a pity,” Xixi said.

University textbook also said homosexuality was a ‘perversion’

The South China Morning Post said the textbook – a 2013 edition of Mental Health Education for College Students published by Jinan University Press – is used by a “number of Chinese Universities”.

It also states that homosexuality is “believed to be a disruption of love and sex or perversion of the sex partner”.

The Suyu District People’s Court in Suqian said the opposing views of Xixi and the publisher were due to differences in opinion rather than a factual error.

Xixi appealed against the ruling in November 2020, but the appeal court upheld the original ruling in favour of the publisher.

She told Reuters she only found out about the ruling on her appeal through her lawyer, and she’s “really disappointed because we are seeing comments that are supporting this judgment”.

Peng Yanzi, the director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China, also told Reuters the ruling is “quite damaging to the whole LGBT community”. He added: “I’m not the only one who is disappointed, shocked and angry – the whole LGBT community is – but we also very much admire Xixi because she’s spent years legally pursuing this.”

Homosexuality is legal in China, but anti-LGBT+ sentiments remain

According to EqualDex, homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997 and was declassified as a mental disorder in 2001. However, the country still does not recognise same-sex marriage, and there are no legal protections from discrimination against LGBT+ people in China.

In 2015, a student sued the Chinese ministry of education over textbooks that described homosexuality as an affliction, arguing that the government was responsible for ensuring the books’ quality and should disclose its approval process. She lost her legal battle two years later.

In 2014, a Chinese court ordered a clinic to compensate a man who underwent electroshock therapy designed to “cure” homosexuality, saying the clinic had committed consumer fraud.