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Gay rights activists in China sue over electric shock therapy

Gay rights activists in China sued a counseling center yesterday for its offers to cure homosexuality through “gay conversion therapy” – the first lawsuit of its kind in a country where gay people are granted few rights and little recognition.

Gay activists staged a protest outside a Beijing court before the case was heard and said they hoped that the trial would persuade the medical community to change its policies on homosexuality and its practice of diagnosing it as a disorder.

Meanwhile, inside the court, a 30-year-old man from southern China said he suffered trauma when a counseling center in the city of Chongqing tried to cure his homosexuality through electric shock therapy and hypnosis. As part of his case, the man also sued Baidu.com, China’s largest search engine company, for false advertising because it ranked the center’s website high in results generated for the search terms “homosexual” and “homosexual treatment.”

In an interview outside of the courthouse, the man asked to be referred to as “Xiao Zhen” instead of using his real name for fear of discrimination among his friends and relatives who don’t know he is gay. He said he has not told his parents about his lawsuit because he hopes to win the case and use it to soften their opposition to his homosexuality.

Offering “gay conversion therapy” is not uncommon among psychological counseling centers in Beijing. While such therapies are often promoted by conservative Christian groups in the West, in China the pressure more often than not comes from gay people’s peers and especially parents, activists said.

Xiao said that after his parents found out he was gay last year, they refused to accept it. And when they saw an advertisement for gay conversion therapy, they pressured him to seek help at the Chongqing Xinyupiaoxiang Counseling Center in February.

On its website, the center claims to have successfully cured 10 patients in 2011 and seven in the first six months of 2012. It charges $80 per counseling session and $4,860 for a full-course treatment.

Representatives of the center and an attorney for Baidu declined to discuss the case with reporters, leaving the courthouse quickly after the hearing.

The Chongqing center explains its views on homosexuality on its website: “Any type of homosexuality is not really homosexuality. It’s just a wrong way of sexual release. They just need to be guided.”

Xiao said a counselor at the center put him under hypnosis after laying him on a bed. The counselor told him to relax and imagine being intimate with another man. Then, he gave Xiao an electric shock.

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