September 15, 2016

Chinese activist sues Ministry of Education over homophobic textbooks


Qiu Bai, who is suing the Chinese government over homophobic content in school textbooks. (Image via Youtube)

Qiu Bai, who is suing the Chinese government over homophobic content in school textbooks. (Image via Youtube)

The exhausting news of minorities demanding that their government-sanctioned textbooks acknowledge their humanity continues. We’re no stranger to this in the United States. And now, in China, an LGBTQ activist is suing the Ministry of Education over archaically offensive language in university textbooks — and her suit is already provoking a dispiriting backlash from the government. Natalie Thomas reports for Reuters:

A gay Chinese student activist on Monday lodged a suit against the Ministry of Education over school textbooks describing homosexuality as a mental disorder, the latest step by China’s small but growing gay rights movement.

[…]Chinese universities continue to use textbooks that contain terms such as “disorder” and “impediment” to refer to homosexuality, research the Gay and Lesbian Campus Association of China carried out in 2014 found.

Qiu Bai, 21 and a media studies student at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, told Reuters she came across similar materials when she turned to the books in her university library after beginning to question her own sexual orientation.

“Since 2001 when homosexuality was declassified as an illness in mainland China, 40 percent of the psychology and mental health teaching materials published on the mainland say homosexuality is an illness,” Qiu said.

Qiu’s suit represents a disappointing culmination of months of bureaucratic stonewalling, and she does not expect it to be successful. Not only were her initial complaints to the Ministry ignored, but after allegedly securing a promise from the Ministry to resolve her complaint via internal mediation in exchange for dropping a previous suit, the Ministry failed to deliver. Upon re-mounting the suit, Qiu was granted her day in court. However, the hearing was quickly adjourned with the judge’s ruling set for an undetermined future point, with neither Qiu nor her counsel professing much optimism.

As Caroline Kitchener points out in a recent Vox piece, Qiu faces a unique set of challenges. On one hand, Chinese government agencies typically resolve lawsuits with as little fanfare as possible, and China’s non-official government policy on gay rights issues has been to never officially acknowledge their existence. However, as Qiu’s profile rises in international media, her treatment at the hands of the Ministry becomes a potential embarrassment — which may mean that the government will decide in her favor and change the language in the textbooks.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the government is erring on the side of compassion — multiple state reporters have allegedly been pressured by the government to stop reporting on the story, leaving Qiu with a long and potentially disappointing road ahead.



Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.