Lesbian college student sues Ministry of Education for biased information on LGBT groups in textbooks

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-8-28 5:03:01

Qiu Bai stands in her dorm building. A new semester has started. Photo: Courtesy of Qiu Bai


Before a new school year started at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, Qiu Bai (pseudonym) received some good news.

Last week, a court in Beijing accepted her lawsuit against China's Ministry of Education over Chinese textbooks that describe homosexuality as a "psychological disorder." Even though no timeline has been set yet for the trial, many consider this a big step forward.

It's been about six months since Qiu Bai first started her campaign. In the process, she's received many denials, faced closed doors and was even forced out of the closet by a college staff in student management.

But in the process, Qiu Bai was glad to see her actions have encouraged some people along the way. 

Finding yourself

Qiu Bai first consulted textbooks because she felt uncertain about her own sexuality.

Although she knew about homosexuality, she never thought she could be gay. But when she started college, friends started asking her what kind of boyfriend she wants. It was then she realized she was uncomfortable thinking about having a boyfriend.

Then she found herself attracted to a particular female classmate, which freaked her out at first.

Naturally, she started looking up her situation online, but she found an array of answers, with some calling gay people degenerates.

"I started feeling that I was a little abnormal," Qiu Bai said. She wasn't sure whether she should get "conversion therapy" or just accept herself. Then she thought about looking up official medical textbooks in the library, thinking that what's written in the books must be objective.

She was taken back to see these books, even recent 2013 versions, had information on "treatments" that can turn gay people "normal." She looked up about 20 textbooks, covering topics from psychology and health to behavior analysis, they all described homosexuality as some kind of disease. 

"I couldn't believe my sexuality," Qiu Bai said. "So I asked my friends who are studying medicine, but they told me something different."

According to the newest version of the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders, published by the Chinese Society of Psychiatry in 2001, homosexuality is no longer regarded as a disease.

Disclosing falsehood 

For a while, Qiu Bai felt scared and angry that the textbooks were defying the official stance of the Chinese medical profession. She hadn't entirely made peace with her sexuality and hadn't thought about telling her parents yet, but she knew it was wrong for the textbooks to describe gay people that way.

She reached out to LGBT groups in order to find out more on the subject, and found an LGBT organization not far from her school called Youth Resource Center.

The center was doing a research project on how textbooks in the Chinese mainland are denouncing homosexuality. All of a sudden, Qiu Bai found there are many people like her. Gradually, she started volunteering at the center to find people who were influenced by the textbooks.

Someone she remembers vividly was a medical student, who read in textbooks that homosexuality can be treated by shock treatment and went on believing it. He wouldn't talk to LGBT groups and was keen on finding clinics that can give him a "conversion treatment."

Qiu Bai lost touch with that person soon after. He would add her on WeChat, talk for a while, then delete her again. After this happened a few times, he never added her again and retreated to his own world.

 "It's easy for people to neglect that such textbooks are hurting LGBT students," she said. "So I want do something to improve the situation."

In March this year, Qiu Bai and 10 of her classmates sent an open letter to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, and the Guangdong Education Bureau, reporting that some textbooks contain incorrect information.

Chen Minyi is one of the 10 who signed the open letter. She met Qiu Bai during class and found her to be a strong and insistent person. She knew Qiu Bai is calling for gay rights, and when she asked Chen to join her, Chen said yes without giving it a second thought.

Heading to court

But Qiu Bai didn't receive the admittance of wrongful information she had hoped. In fact, she struggled for half a year without getting what she wanted.

The education bureau forwarded her letter to the Higher Education Publication Bureau of Guangdong, which told Qiu Bai the bureau had nothing to do with the textbooks.

Since March, she's petitioned at the education bureau again. But she still received no answer.

Then she decided she should do things legally and went to court to sue the ministry for inaction and finally received a reply this August.

But a college staff, afraid of what "damage" suing the ministry might do to the school, called Qiu Bai's parents and told them about her actions, forcing her out of the closet.

Her parents threatened to cut her off financially and said they will take her to a hospital in a few days for an "examination."

"She kept telling us that she's fine, even though this brought strong conflicts at home," Chen said. "And she's been considerate to her parents. It moved me and made me sad at the same time."

Qiu Bai isn't the first college student to have done something progressive for the LGBT community.

A couple of months ago, a female student from the same school came out to her principle at the graduation ceremony. She wore a rainbow flag around her shoulders while she walked on stage and asked the principal whether she could have a hug, which he gladly gave.

That student, after she graduated, didn't receive the same negative consequence as Qiu Bai.

Despite the bad experience, Qiu Bai is happy that she at least influenced some people during the process. She has received many messages on Weibo and her public WeChat account from other LGBT students.

College students who knew about her actions started coming out to their friends and families, wrote open letters to their own principals and did art projects to show their support.

"I think this is great advocacy for LGBT groups, it's showing the public what kind of issues they are facing," she said.

Newspaper headline: Throwing the book at them

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