A university student in south China’s Guangdong Province is suing the country’s Ministry of Education (MOE) over state-published course textbooks that classify homosexuality as a psychiatric disease.

Referred to in the Chinese press by the assumed name Qiu Bai, the student says that she first perused the teaching material in question when she felt unsure about her own sexuality.

As she took out books from the university library, she found that many categorised homosexuality as a physiological disorder or mental illness on par with paedophilia and exhibitionism. Some texts even suggested electroshock therapy and induced vomiting to “treat” homosexuals.

Some of the textbooks in question
Some of the textbooks in question. Photo: HKFP.

Qiu applied to the MOE to disclose information about the textbooks in question but received no reply within the statutory period, prompting her to take the government department to court.

Abnormal Psychology and Mental Health Education are among dozens of volumes that refer to homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder—despite a 2001 decision by the Chinese Psychiatric Association to no longer regard homosexuality as a “disease” in official diagnostic guidelines.

Forty percent of postgraduate textbooks published after 2001 still classify homosexuality as a psychological disorder, according to China’s Tong Cheng Youth Centre, with 50 percent recommending various courses of treatment to “cure” LGBTQ patients.

In March, Qiu and several classmates submitted letters of complaint to the General Administration of Press and Publication and the Guangdong Provincial Department of Education, writing that the materials perpetuated stigmas against homosexuals.

Gay rights activists in Changsha, Hunan province
Gay rights activists in Changsha, Hunan province. Photo: Tiexue.

The departments responded that the books were written “according to national standards of diagnosis” and there were no errors in the content.

Qiu subsequently sent a registered letter to the MOE in May requesting that the body disclose its regulatory functions in regards to overseeing the application of the latest scientific standards accepted by the government.

According to information disclosure regulations, the ministry should have fulfilled the request within 15 days or otherwise informed the applicant that more time was needed to process the request.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others