HONG KONG – The Chinese government should stop hospitals and other medical facilities from subjecting LGBT people to conversion therapy that in some cases has involved electroshock, involuntary confinement and forced medication, a human rights group said Wednesday.
The report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch, based on interviews with 17 people subjected to the widely criticized techniques since 2009, comes as awareness has grown in China regarding the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Homosexuality was removed from China’s official list of mental illnesses more than 15 years ago, but stories of families enrolling their relatives in treatments seeking to change their sexual orientation remain common.
The report says many victims of conversion therapy were forcibly brought to hospitals by their families, which became the subject of a groundbreaking lawsuit earlier this year.
Chinese society continues to strongly favor children who can pass on their family name, and since same-sex marriage is not legal and same-sex couples may not adopt jointly, gay and lesbian people feel compelled to enter heterosexual marriages and have children.
China also has no laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which deters victims of conversion therapy from seeking justice out of fear that their sexual orientation will be made public.
Under guidelines issued by the National Health Committee, the government is required to investigate activities by hospitals that could violate the Mental Health Law, which prohibits forced confinement of people unless they pose a danger to others. But the government has yet to issue clear guidelines prohibiting conversion therapy and holding abusers accountable.
While the authorities no longer round up and prosecute homosexuals, the scope of public activism by LGBT rights groups is restricted and the depiction of gay people on television and popular web streaming services is banned.
Despite that, activists say there has been progress on LGBT rights.
“In recent years, China has become increasingly liberal and open to LGBT people,” said Wang Long, an LGBT activist from Zhejiang province.
Shanghai has hosted an annual gay pride parade since 2009 and internet censors have tolerated increasingly open debate about LGBT issues.
In July, a gay man successfully sued a mental hospital over forced conversion therapy, in what activists hailed as the first such victory for the LGBT community. The court in Zhumadian in Henan province ordered a city psychiatric hospital to publish an apology in local newspapers and pay the 38-year-old man 5,000 yuan ($750) in compensation.
The man, surnamed Yu, had been forcibly confined to the institution in 2015 by his wife and relatives and was diagnosed with “sexual preference disorder.” He was forced to take medicine and receive injections until he was released 19 days later.
However, a single lawsuit is not enough to deter the practice of conversion therapy, Human Rights Watch and activists say.
The practice of conversion therapy persists because “many doctors are ignorant about homosexuality, and just follow the mainstream opinion, which is that being gay is abnormal, a sickness that must be treated,” Wang said.