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Gay man challenges shock therapy in Chinese court first

Protesters outside a Chinese court where a gay man is challenging a conversion clinic. Photo: ITV News

For the first time a homosexual man has been allowed to challenge a gay conversion clinic in a Chinese court, accusing it of fraud and denying him his human rights.

Xiao Zheng experienced electric shock treatment in February this year in Chonquing, south west China. He was asked by his parents to have it because they hoped it would 'cure' him.

He said thinking about the ordeal still scares him, but his family “don’t understand homosexuality because there’s such a lack of information about it in China.”

Neighbours and friends constantly ask why he, as their 30 year old son, isn’t married and why he doesn’t have children. He puts this down to the traditional and conservative outlook of the country.

He said China is, "a nation that places such strong emphasis on the family and producing children and being gay, they think, denies you these things."

Xiao Zheng who is challenging his treatment by a Chinese gay conversion clinic. Credit: ITV News

Outside court in the Chinese capital Beijing this morning, campaigners from the city's LGBT (lesbian gay bi-sexual transsexual) organisation staged a relatively small demonstration, protesting about a big issue.

Mocking the electric shock treatment that Xiao Zheng went through, their banners read, 'Homesexuality does not need to be cured,’ which is the principle of their campaign. They want to stop people believing that their sexuality needs to be altered.

Growing up confused about her sexuality Rui Zhang - a lesbian and gay activist - told me: “People in China think we're mentally ill. They think we’re weird and they cannot understand us. They do not respect us. If we tell anyone we’re gay, they look down on us.”

Gay relationships in China were only legalised in 1997, and until 2001 homosexuality was deemed a mental illness. As a result of this stigma, many still believe that conversion therapy can "change" a person, and there are numerous clinics offering the treatment across the country.

We visited one such centre in Beijing where therapist Zhao Qigang told us: "Real gay people, I can’t cure them but some patients I can. A girl might love a boy but then change her mind and fall in love with a girl. These people can be cured, and there are ways to work out who’s truly gay.

"The real ones, when they’re talking about their relationships, you can tell how happy they are from their faces, just like with normal people.”

Therapist Zhao Qigang in his office at a gay conversion centre in Beijing. Credit: ITV News

He also told me that electric shock treatment is banned because it doesn't work and it’s not something he uses. He opts for hypnotherapy and psychological analysis instead, because “different patients need different therapies based on their education and their family situation.”

He said 40% of his clients are the children of families who simply cannot accept their sexual orientation.

Protesters outside a court in Beijing where a gay man is challenging his treatment by a conversion clinic. Credit: ITV News

Ultimately, Xiao said: “We just want equal rights, not special rights” and he believes this law suit is a step towards "reaching that dream." The fact that the case and the demonstrations were allowed to go ahead today is a sign of tolerance from the Chinese government.

If the case is successful it could start the process of banning conversion clinics nationwide which would be a move closer towards acceptance for the homosexual community in China.