A lesbian student in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou has filed a lawsuit against the government after it approved and disseminated university textbooks describing homosexuality as a "psychological disorder."
Qiu Bai, 21, took legal action against the ministry of education in Beijing after reading discriminatory language in a nationwide student psychological handbook published by the prestigious Renmin University.
According to the handbook, titled "Student Psychological Health": "The most commonly encountered forms of sexual deviance are homosexuality and the perverted addictions of transvestism, transsexuality, fetishism, sadism, voyeurism and exhibitionism."
Qiu’s lawsuit was filed at a district court in Beijing in August, 2015 and the court held a pre-trial meeting on Nov, 24, including Qiu, her lawyer and two legal representatives of the Ministry of Education. The suit calls on the ministry to release details of its approval process for the book, and to suggest amendments.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997, and removed from official psychiatric diagnostic manuals in 2001.
Big step forward
Qiu, who uses a pseudonym for fear of reprisals, said she wants to ensure that no harm comes to students from such publications.
The director of the Guangzhou-based non-government group LGBT Rights Advocacy, who gave only a nickname Yanzi, told RFA that the acceptance of the case by a court in Beijing's Fengtai district is a big step forward for LGBT rights in China.
"The education ministry needs to send people who hold real responsibility to answer this case," Yanzi said. "In one public library in Guangzhou alone, we found 42 books out of 90 we picked out that refer to homosexuality as mental illness, and these are from 2001, 2002, not a very long time ago."
"I don't understand why the education ministry didn't take positive measures, once it knew about this."
More and more highly educated urban Chinese have begun coming out in recent years, and while some find acceptance among their peers, social attitudes still strongly favor marriage and children.
How many Chinese would identify themselves as gay is unknown, as social stigma associated with homosexuality remains widespread, with many choosing to marry despite their orientation.
The country’s health and family planning ministry has estimated that there are between five million and 10 million gay men in China, but activists say the actual number is far higher.
Guangzhou-based A Qiang, who gave only a nickname, said he runs a support group for the families and friends of LGBT people, in a bid to increase social acceptance and improve the lives of those who come out.
"Incorrect textbooks are like poor-quality goods; why should we accept them any more than we would accept sub-standard food?" A Qiang said.
"We should have the right to send them back, and I think we do have that right, because we are paying tuition fees."
No threat to party
He said there have been a growing number of anti-discrimination lawsuits filed by the LGBT community in China since around 2010.
"But the current bureaucratic system makes it very difficult, so there will still be plenty of obstacles in the short-term, and even persecution," A Qiang said.
"But that's not going to stop the momentum of the LGBT rights movement."
U.S.-based rights activist Liu Qing said the outlook is possibly rosier for LGBT rights in China than for many disadvantaged minorities.
"The [ruling Chinese Communist Party] is unlikely to see the LGBT community as a likely threat to its hold on power," Liu said.
"That's why they probably won't take too tough a line with them; the outlook is quite hopeful for LGBT rights in China," he said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xi Wang for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.