Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Normal, China

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Normal, China

Article excerpt

The Chinese Psychiatric Association decides that being gay is no longer a disease

Sometime in April, the Chinese Psychiatric Association will publish its new diagnostic guidelines. Noticeably absent from the list of mental disorders will be one that has been included for decades: homosexuality. As of this year, being gay no longer means being mentally ill, a major leap forward for lesbians and gays in China. And helping to make the change happen was a group of Chinese activists in the United States and their American supporters.

"This change was brought about by a lot of sources," says ErYan Lin, a Chinese national living in the Washington, D.C., area and general coordinator of the Chinese Society for the Study of Sexual Minorities. "We provided a lot of gay-affirmative information for gay leaders as well as for members of the CPA."

Under the new guidelines issued by the the association, homosexuality will no longer be considered a mental illness. The change reflects an about-face by the group; as recently as 1994, a handbook published by the CPA strongly stated its opposition to the World Health Organization's call for accepting homosexuality. The move brings China in line with most Western nations, which do not consider being gay an illness.

However, the association did not move toward complete acceptance of homosexuality. "They kept `sexual orientation disorder,'" says Wan Yan Hai, a public-health researcher and gay rights activist in China. "It says that sexuality itself is not necessarily abnormal, but somebody might have mental problems dealing with it. Some people may want to change if they are unhappy." Under those circumstances, a Chinese psychiatrist would be able to try to "cure" the unhappy patient of his or her homosexuality.

The reservation is similar to the one adopted by the American Psychiatric Association when it "depathologized" homosexuality in 1973. It wasn't until 1986 that the APA removed all reservations about sexual orientation.

"The Chinese psychiatric profession had a lot of internal barriers [to change]," ErYan says. "A lot of professionals don't have access to recent information, so they still consider homosexuality a disease. This was a compromise between the two sides."

Despite the lingering problem of reparative therapy, activists say the CPA's move remains a real victory for gays in China. "There are still too many doctors who feel the right way to treat gay people is lobotomies, electric shock treatment, drugs to make them throw up when they become aroused," says Lyle Henry, a U.S. gay activist who helped lobby for the change. "There are people in the CPA very opposed to this change. The whole Confucian society is very negative about being gay. This is just one step, but it is such an important step because it's getting talked about and takes away that fallback position that everybody who is gay is sick."

The group decided in 1996 to set up a task force to study the classification of mental disorders. "When we heard that news, we found we had a chance to push the CPA to change the policy toward homosexuality," Wan says. What followed was a behind-the-scenes effort to convince the task force that the association's stand on homosexuality was outmoded. …

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