Chinese Student Files Lawsuit Over Homophobic Textbook

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china-xixi-073120.jpg Guangzhou student XiXi, who has sued a textbook publishing company over its definition of homosexuality, is shown in an undated photo.
Photo provided by XiXi

A university student in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong has lodged a formal complaint over references to homosexuality as a "disease" in a government-approved textbook.

While homosexuality officially ceased to be regarded as a mental disorder in China in 2001, a Guangzhou-based student who identified herself only by the nickname Xixi, said she had found a reference to it as a psychosexual disorder in a current university textbook published by the Jinan University Press.

"There is one chapter that classifies homosexuality as a 'common psychosexual disorder'; that's the phrase it uses," Xixi told RFA. "This is the main mistake because it hasn't been a mental illness in China since 2001."

"The standard diagnostic manual now classifies homosexuality as a sexual orientation," she said, adding that repeated requests to the publisher to correct the wording had been rejected.

China lacks anti-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation, so Xixi has filed complaints of "poor quality" with the publishing house and the online platform which sells the book.

She commissioned a professional editor to find more than 70 errors in translation and punctuation, while the discriminatory content has been listed as a factual error relating to the updating of the diagnostic manual.

"It's a factual error to classify homosexuality as a psychosexual disorder," she said. "It is also an issue of product quality."

"The content that I really want to complain about is only a small part of the evidence," she said. "[But I] also want to take this opportunity to generate public discussion and increase awareness."

The publishing house is based in Guangzhou, and has the support of the media regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television.

Court allows the suit

Xixi had been concerned that courts wouldn't accept her lawsuit if she made the discriminatory content the main point.

But one court in Suqian, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, where has its headquarters, agreed to allow her to file.

The initial hearing was held on July 3, with the defendants sending written legal opinions rather than mounting a defense in person.

Her lawyer Ge Ang said he had submitted around 30 pieces of evidence backing the view that homosexuality isn't a psychosexual disorder in China.

"[Our evidence] included opinions from the Health and Family Planning Commission and international documents," he said.

"The hearing went well at first but the judge interrupted us several times because he wanted to save time in the second half," he said. "He said that we had already submitted a written legal opinion anyway, so we could just make a brief statement."

He said the lawsuit could serve as a warning to other companies that publish teaching materials.

More are coming out

Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997, and removed from official psychiatric diagnostic manuals in 2001.

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 heterosexual marriage and children.

How many Chinese identify as LGBTQ is unknown. 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.

LGBTQ activists say there have been a growing number of anti-discrimination lawsuits filed by the community in China since around 2010, as well as some rare though unsuccessful bids to register same-sex marriages.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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