A court in China’s Henan province has ruled in favor of a plaintiff involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for “gay conversion treatment,” ordering it to pay damages. LGBT advocates in the country are hailing it as the first victory for such a case.

In the local court’s ruling, the mental hospital located in the province’s Zhumadian City was found to have violated 38-year-old man Yu Hu’s (not his real name) right to personal freedom. The court has ordered the hospital to pay a compensation of RMB 5000 (US$735) and to publish a public apology, according to a local media report.

LGBT Rights Advocacy China General Manager Peng Yanhui says that the case was the first court victory for an LGBT person involuntarily classified as mentally ill, adding that the hospital had forcibly curtailed the plaintiff’s personal liberties.

Caixin reports that Yu was sent for treatment at the mental hospital by his wife and relatives in October 2015. Yu says that the hospital forcibly treated him after deeming him a sufferer of “sexuality preference disorder.”

During 19 days of treatment, hospital staff forced him to take medicine. Yu’s repeated pleads to be discharged were denied. After mediation between hospital and public security officials, he was finally released.

Yu says he was humiliated by hospital staff and was forced to remove his clothes to staff members who wanted to determine “if he was man or woman.” He filed a lawsuit against the hospital in May 2016 for deprivation of personal liberties and sought damages amounting to RMB 10,000.

According to court records cited by local media, the hospital claims that Yu was committed to the institution accompanied by his wife and brother. It stated that Yu was suffering from anxiety and showed signs of possible self-harm, adding that “treatment procedures were not in any way at fault.”

Not an isolated case

According to Peng, Yu’s ordeal is not an isolated case among the LGBT community.

“Currently there are still many LGBT friends being sent to hospitals or mental clinics to undergo forceful conversion therapy,” he says.

According to a 2014 survey completed by the Beijing LGBT Center, close to 10 percent of the 1,653 questioned had considered undertaking conversion therapy due to parental and familial relations and “living a normal life in line with social expectations.”

Peng says that there is still a sizable market for conversion therapy because no laws are in place to prevent hospitals and institutions from exercising such procedures. He added that therapists and specialists are also ignorant about sexual minority issues and have become the proponents of the treatment.

Peng hopes the Henan ruling will bring action from the nation’s health authorities as well as policies banning conversion therapy.

Homosexuality has not been classified as a mental illness in China since 2001 but social prejudice remains rampant.

In 2014, a Beijing court ordered a psychiatric clinic to compensate a man RMB 3,500 who voluntarily undertook conversion therapy, which included being given electric shocks.

Survivors of conversion therapy are almost nine times more likely to take their own lives in comparison to their peers, an American Psychological Association study completed in 2009 found.

Once a widespread practice in the United States, conversion therapy for minors has been outlawed in nine states.

The Pan American Health Organization, an affiliate organization of the World Health Organization, stated in 2012 that conversion therapy and other methods purporting to alter one’s sexual orientation lack medical justification and pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of those it targets. It added that a global medical consensus exists in finding homosexuality a normal variant of human sexuality and not a pathological condition.

Editor: Olivia Yang