China: Student sues over textbooks that 'demonize' gays and lesbians

Chinese student Chen Qiuyan holds a rainbow flag in front of an intermediate court in the southern Chinese city Guangzhou on July 29, 2015.

Story highlights

  • Student sues over textbooks that say homosexuality needs to be healed
  • Homosexuality was removed from list of mental illnesses in 2001

(CNN)A university student has brought an unprecedented court case against China's Ministry of Education over school textbooks that she says "demonize" gays and lesbians.

Chen Qiuyan, a 21-year-old college student at Sun Yat-Sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou, wants the university library to stop carrying psychiatry and psychology textbooks that say homosexuals have "mental or physical issues" and need to be "healed."
    She filed the case on August 14, and the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court told CNN it has accepted the case.
    Chen said she was horrified when she first came across the text books in 2013.
    At that time Chen was a freshman and confused about her sexuality. She had turned to the textbooks for an academic take on homosexuality and as an alternative to searching for answers online.
    "I was terrified when reading the books. What would my friends and classmates think of me if they read them?"
    What she read prompted her to see a psychologist, Chen said.
    Chen has since come out to friends and the court case comes after months of petitioning local authorities and courts in Guangzhou about the books, which she says are outdated even according to China's own laws.

    Stigma remains

    Fighting for gay rights in China
    Fighting for gay rights in China

      JUST WATCHED

      Fighting for gay rights in China

    MUST WATCH

    Fighting for gay rights in China 03:07
    In 2001, homosexuality was removed from an official list of mental illnesses for clinical treatment. This followed a 1997 decision to decriminalize it.
    In the last two decades, China's LGBT community has made gains in social acceptance.
    Young gay and lesbian activists are increasingly pushing for more rights and recognition, taking heart from June's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court decision to extend same-sex marriage rights across all 50 states.
    Last month, activist Li Tingting and her partner Teresa Xu held an informal wedding ceremony in Beijing to push for same sex unions, which aren't legal in China.
    But the stigma still remains deeply ingrained.
    A recent survey of 90 psychiatry and psychology textbooks by Guangzhou-based LGBT group Gay and Lesbian Campus Association of China, 31 discussed whether homosexuality was a disease. All were published after 2001.
    Chen said she was surprised that the Beijing court took the case and she thinks it's a remarkable victory in her quest to make sure homosexuality is accurately represented in textbooks.
    "It doesn't matter if I win or lose or we settle outside the court," she told CNN. "What matters is the Ministry of Education will have to respond to the issue regarding text books."

    "I have no choice"

    Chen Qiuyan and her friends outside a court in Guangzhou on July 29, 2015. The board on the left reads: "Seeking justice. Gay people can get married in the United States, but text books stigmatize them in China."
    During the process of petitions and lawsuits, Chen said teachers and officials at her university tried to talk her out of "making a fuss."
    Her parents only found out about her sexuality Tuesday, after being summoned for a talk by the university officials. Her parents told her they were deeply saddened and refused to accept it.
    "I have no choice but to march on. I could only fight for more gay rights if I move forward. "
    Her heterosexual friends think she is too radical, and that she is making trouble for herself.
    "But they don't have the experience. They have no idea how great the harm a false textbook could do to a student."