WHILE yesterday was a boon for the LGBT community of Australia with an overwhelming “Yes” vote for marriage equality, disturbing reports coming out of China left a bitter taste in the mouth as it was exposed the draconian practices of conversion therapy were still being used in Chinese public hospitals and private clinics.
A report released Wednesday from Human Rights Watch (HRW) details the brutal treatment of LGBT people coerced into conversion therapy due to social or family pressure. While homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997, stories of people being forced into facilities for “treatments” aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, are fairly common.
Interviewing 17 Chinese people – all using pseudonyms – who endured such treatment, the report detailed the barbaric methods that routinely occur, including arbitrary confinement, forced medication, the use of electroshocks, and coercion and threats.
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) November 15, 2017
First hand accounts expose the dehumanising nature of the treatment. Verbal abuse was commonplace with words such as “sick,” “pervert,” “diseased,” “abnormal,” “dirty,” and “slutty” used by doctors and psychiatrists to describe the interviewees. Zhang Zhikun, a transgender woman who went to conversation therapy at a state-owned hospital in Shenzhen in 2012, told of a conversation in which her doctor said:
“If you don’t change that about yourself, you will get sick and you will die from AIDS. You will never have a happy family… Have you ever considered your parents’ happiness?’”
But verbal harassment was just the tip of the iceberg, with 11 interviewees telling HRW they were forced to take pills and subjected to injections without being told what the medication was or the effects it would have on their health.
“They just told me they were supposed to be good for me and help with the progress of the ‘treatment’,” said one 29-year-old gay man who was admitted to a public hospital in Fujian province three years ago.
Zhang also detailed how she was forced to watch gay porn while being injected with an unknown liquid that left her feeling sick.
“They asked me to watch and concentrate on the gay porn playing on the screen. And a nurse injected some liquid into me with a syringe,” she said.
“Soon my body started to feel like it’s burning. My stomach was very uncomfortable, I felt very disgusted and constantly wanted to vomit in the whole process… Every few minutes, the doctor and the nurse asked me to calm down and keep focusing on what is being shown on the screen.”
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) November 15, 2017
Five of those interviewed were subjected to electric shocks while being shown images or videos – or given verbal descriptions – of homosexual acts.
Gong Lei, who underwent conversion therapy in Fujian Province, described his experience.
“The doctor asked me to relax because I was going to practise some kind of hypnosis and to think about sex scenes with my boyfriend – at that moment I felt pain in both wrists. I did not know what was happening.”
Another interviewee remembered going through nine electroshock sessions during his two-month “treatment.”
“My wrists and arms felt numb, my head too. But the most painful part was my stomach.”
While there is a growing awareness of LGBT issues in the country, with lively gay scenes springing up in big cities and gay pride parades beginning to emerge, China has no laws protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And rights groups warn that, in a culture that places a high value on filial piety, millions of LGBT people are still forced to live in secret with many marrying heterosexual partners rather than come out as gay.
In a statement released Wednesday, HRW LGBT rights director Graeme Reid called on the Chinese government to put a stop to the “discriminatory and abusive” practice of conversion therapy.
“If Chinese authorities are serious about ending discrimination and abuse against LGBT people, it’s time to put an end to this practice in medical facilities,” he said.
While conversion therapy is technically illegal under Chinese law, the group accused the government of not doing enough to put an end to facilities that practise it. Measures such as clear guidelines prohibiting conversion therapy; monitoring facilities to determine whether conversion therapy is taking place; and, where it is, holding such facilities accountable, was suggested as a course of action.
“It’s time for China to join the global consensus: acknowledge that forced/medical conversion therapy is abusive and discriminatory and ban it,” Reid said. “Only then does decriminalisation become meaningful legally and socially, and give LGBT people across China actionable protections against this grim practice.”