A 20-year-old man in China's southern Changsha city has filed a lawsuit against Hunan province's civil affairs department after his application to register a gay rights organisation was turned down.
Xiang Xiaohan, who founded a local gay rights group named Same-Sex Love Assistance Network in 2009 and has since been an active member, told SCMP.com on Thursday that he had lodged the case with Kaifu district court in Changsha on Wednesday.
The court is expected to decide whether or not to proceed with the lawsuit within seven days, he said.
When Xiang applied to have his gay rights group registered with Changsha city in 2012, the application was turned down. Xiang then requested an explanation from provincial civil affairs officials.
In a letter addresed to Xiang, the provincial office stated that setting up gay groups "lacked legal basis" since Chinese laws only recognise marriages between men and women.
The letter also said such an attempt went against "traditional Chinese culture and the social construction of morality", a copy obtained by SCMP.com showed.
Xiang demanded that provincial officials to issue a written apology and withdraw their statement.
Registering with the government would make it easier for an organisation to raise funds and hold public events. In theory, organisations must register with the government, but in practice the process is so strict that only government-run NGOs are approved - forcing others to go "underground" even if their activities are legal and legitimate.
Li Yinhe, a prominent Chinese sociologist, told Chinese media that although Chinese laws do not allow homosexual marriages, citizens are still entitled to constitutional right to establish social organisations.
Yu Fangqiang, an executive director at Nanjing-based NGO Justice for All, told SCMP.com that government was in no position to decide what "traditional Chinese culture" is and what goes against it.
"It falls on the court to decide that," he said.
Justice for All has assisted Xiang in finding a lawyer and proceeding with the lawsuit, Yu said.
Xiang has already had run-ins with the local government before. He was detained by local police in May last year after he organised a pro-gay rights rally in Changsha that drew more than 100 participants. Police accused Xiang of failing to apply for a permit to rally.
Hunan's provincial Department of Civil Affairs couldn't be reached for a comment on Thursday.