In China, LGBT people are still being subjected to forced confinement, medication and even electric shock “therapy” to change their sexual orientation, Human Rights Watch said in its latest report on Wednesday.

The 52-page report, titled Have You Considered Your Parents’ Happiness?: Conversion Therapy Against LGBT People in China, is based on interviews with 17 people with experience of being threatened, coerced and sometimes physically forced by their parents to submit to conversion therapy.

According to Human Rights Watch, pseudoscientific practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual are still widespread in China. They are carried out in public hospitals and government-approved clinics, even though homosexuality is considered neither a crime nor a mental illness in the country.

“It’s been more than 20 years since China decriminalized homosexuality. If Chinese authorities are serious about ending discrimination and abuse against LGBT people, it’s time to put an end to this practice in medical facilities,” said Graeme Reild, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch.

China officially decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, while the Chinese Psychiatric Society removed homosexuality from its classification of mental disorders in 2001. In 2013, a mental health law effectively ruled conversion therapy illegal, yet such practices still continue to take place.

Traumatic therapies

Almost all of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported being subjected to verbal harassment by doctors and psychiatrists. Eleven of the interviewees were forced to take medications orally or by injections as part of their “treatment,” while five people described undergoing electroshock treatment as part of their conversion.

“Patients were meant to associate their homosexuality with unpleasant or painful sensations with a view towards quelling their sexual impulses towards people of the same sex,” Human Rights Watch said in the report.

Four of the five interviewees said they were not told beforehand that they were about to undergo such treatment, which compounded their trauma.

“As they turned it up, I started to feel pain instead of just numb. It felt like … having needles stabbing my skin. Then after a few minutes, my body started trembling. It was not until later did I realize that was an electroshock machine,” Liu Xiaoyun (a pseudonym) said.

Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. Photo: Liu Hsiu Wen / Asia Times

Family pressure

All the interviewees said they would not have undergone conversion therapy were it not for family and/or social pressure.

“Traditional family values in China strongly favor children who can pass on the family name,” Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch, said in a Hong Kong media briefing on Wednesday. “This creates intense pressure for the LGBT community.”

One man quoted in the report says: “My dad kneeled down in front of me, crying, begging me to go. My dad said he did not know how to continue living in this world and facing other family members if people found out I was gay.”

Xiao Tie, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, pretends to inject a patient with a mock syringe during a protest outside the Haidian District Court in Beijing on July 31, 2014. Photo: AFP/Greg Baker
Xiao Tie, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, pretends to inject a patient with a mock syringe during a protest outside the Haidian District Court in Beijing on July 31, 2014. Photo: AFP / Greg Baker

The group recommended Chinese authorities “take immediate steps to ensure that [their] declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder is supported by meaningful protections” and “issue regulations or guidelines that clearly prohibit public hospitals and private clinics from conducting conversion therapy,” while also strengthening the monitoring of hospitals to end the practice.

The group also urged international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization to lobby the Chinese government to end the practice of conversion therapy.