A Chinese court has upheld a ruling that a textbook description of homosexuality as “a psychological disorder” was not a factual error but merely an “academic view”.
The Chinese LGBT community, and the 24-year-old woman who filed the lawsuit, have expressed disappointment at the decision, handed down last week by the Suqian Intermediate People’s Court in the eastern province of Jiangsu.
Ou Jiayong, who also uses the name Xixi, said the court’s decision about what constituted a “factual error” was “random and baseless”.
In 2016, during her first year of study at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Xixi came across a psychology textbook that described being gay as a mental disorder.
The 2013 edition of Mental Health Education for College Students, published by Jinan University Press, listed homosexuality under “common psychosexual disorders” – along with cross-dressing and fetishism. It stated that homosexuality “was believed to be a disruption of love and sex or perversion of the sex partner”.
The textbook is used by a number of Chinese universities and Xixi was concerned that it was perpetuating the belief that being gay was wrong.
In 2017, Xixi sued the publisher of the textbook, and online retailer JD.com that stocks it, demanding that it remove the reference and publicly apologise. She said the book was “poor quality work” as the statement was wrong, with no scientific basis to back it up.
Late last year, the Suyu District People’s Court in Suqian ruled in favour of the publishing house, saying that the opposing views of Xixi and the publisher were due to differences in opinion rather than a factual error.
In November, Xixi, now a social worker in Hong Kong, appealed against the ruling, but it wasn’t enough to sway the appeal court, which last week handed down its decision to uphold the previous judgment.
She said she believed the evidence she had provided was enough to prove the description of homosexuality as a mental disorder was wrong.
“Maybe this ruling is to reduce controversy,” she said. “But it has also allowed textbooks that pathologise homosexuality to continue circulating, which is a pity.”
Xixi’s lawsuit attracted a groundswell of support from China’s LGBT community, which publicly expressed disappointment at the case’s outcome.
Ah Qiang, spokesman for the Guangzhou-based non-governmental organisation PFLAG, a local peer support group for families and friends of the queer community, compared the textbook description of homosexuality to people believing that the sun revolved around the earth in its inaccuracy.
“The editor of the textbook apparently used viewpoints that do not match society’s perception of sexual minorities today,” Ah Qiang said.
China decriminalised homosexuality in 1997 and it was removed from a list of mental illnesses in 2001. But homosexuals who are “discordant with themselves” or who feel anxious or depressed because of their sexuality are still listed in the official Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders.
The World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990.
Xixi said that while she had exhausted all legal avenues available to overturn the ruling, there was still much more work to be done and a long way to go to address the situation.
“My lawyer and I will have some public sharing sessions, write up notes with others in the community and see if there’s anything else we can follow up,” she said.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.