Chinese lesbian takes government to court over textbooks

Qiu Bai speaks to reporters outside the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court in Beijing, China.
Qiu Bai speaks to reporters outside the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court in Beijing, China. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese lesbian on Tuesday (Nov 24) took the government to court over textbooks describing homosexuality as a "psychological disorder", a landmark case in a country where discrimination remains common.

Qiu Bai, 21, a student at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, brought the action against the ministry of education, demanding that it give her details of how it approved materials and how they could be changed.

China only officially decriminalised homosexuality in 1997, removing it from its list of mental illnesses four years later.

Qiu's team showed AFP a manual, "Student Psychological Health", published in 2015 by the prestigious Renmin University and distributed to students nationwide.

"The most commonly encountered forms of sexual deviance are homosexuality and the sick addictions of transvestism, transsexuality, fetishism, sadism, voyeurism and exhibitionism," it read.

Other psychology textbooks had similar content.

Qiu, who uses a pseudonym for fear of being victimised, told AFP that she hoped to make sure such materials "no longer harm students", adding that she had come under pressure from her university over the case, but it had been mitigated by coverage in Chinese media.

Holding a large rainbow flag, she said she was "excited" by her "first opportunity to have a face-to-face dialogue with the ministry of education".

Supporters brandished signs outside the Fengtai district court in Beijing reading: "We want a fair judgement" and "Homosexuals must gain visibility".

"Of the 90 textbooks available in the libraries of Guangzhou, 42 per cent present homosexuality as a disease or abnormality," said Peng Yanhui, director of the non-profit LGBT Rights Advocacy, based in the southern city, citing a study.

Attitudes are changing in major Chinese cities, but gay men and lesbians are still widely subject to strong social and family pressures.

Often without siblings, due to the country's one-child policy, they must contend with parental insistence that they have grandchildren, and so frequently resign themselves to heterosexual marriages while keeping their true sexual orientation secret.