Chinese man forced into ‘gay conversion therapy’ wins landmark lawsuit against hospital

Henan mental hospital that treated him for ‘anxiety disorder’ against his will ordered to make public apology and pay compensation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 11:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 5:55pm

A gay man in the central Chinese province of Henan has successfully sued a mental hospital over forced conversion therapy, in what activists are hailing as the first such victory in a country where the LGBT rights movement is gradually emerging from the fringes.

The district court in Zhumadian ordered the hospital to make a public apology and pay the man 5,000 yuan (US$735) ­in compensation after he was forced to undergo treatment for “anxiety disorder”, according to court ­documents.

The hospital had infringed on the right of 38-year-old Yu Quanhu, not his real name, to individual freedom, the court said in its June 26 judgment. But it did not weigh in on the practice of gay conversion therapy.

Yu was sent to the hospital by his wife and relatives in October 2015 after he tried to get a divorce. He was kept there for 19 days, during which time he was forced to take medicine and given injections by staff, Yu told the court.

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The hospital released him after he called friends for help but he told China News Service last year that he was unable to lead a normal life afterwards. He said he left his family home because he was worried about being forced into hospital again.

Yu’s lawyer, Huang Rui, told the South China Morning Post that they were pleased with the ruling. “Winning this lawsuit can give all gay people confidence that they can safeguard their rights through the courts,” Huang said, adding that the verdict would also act as a deterrent to other hospitals carrying out such treatment.

Gay rights activist Peng Yanhui said it was “the first case that ­homosexual people [have won] after being forced to undergo treatment for mental illness”.

Peng said the ruling would send a message to parents who tried to send their gay children to hospital for treatment. Beijing removed homosexuality from its list of recognised mental illnesses more than 15 years ago but stories are rife of families ­admitting their relatives for so-called conversion therapy.

Peng said he hoped the case would prompt the health department to pay more attention to the harm done to gay people forcibly admitted to hospitals and psychiatric clinics because of their sexual orientation.

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Peng himself checked into a private conversion clinic in 2014 to investigate its ­advertised electro­shock treatments. He then sued the clinic and was awarded 3,500 yuan in compensation by a Beijing court for the suffering he had endured.

While few mainland Chinese have religious objections to homosexuality and homophobic violence is rare, the authoritarian politics and conservative society’s preference for marriage and childbearing create subtle barriers that keep most gays in the closet.

Vibrant gay scenes do exist in large cities including Shanghai, which has an annual gay pride ­parade, and depictions of same-sex relationships are increasingly seen in film and television.

Additional reporting by Associated Press