China: Gays No Longer 'Mentally Ill'

In China, being gay will no longer be equated with being crazy — at least according to the psychiatrists.

New guidelines announced by Chinese Psychiatric Association will no longer classify homosexuality as a pathological condition, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The new standards, to be issued next month, say homosexual behavior is not to be considered abnormal.

Those who are fine with being gay have no need for psychiatric help, Chen Yanfang, the vice-chairman of the Chinese Psychiatric Association's standing committee, told the Times.

But he added that same-sex desires could still be considered a mental disorder for those unhappy with being gay.

The change marks a significant turnaround for China's mental-health establishment, which, as recently as 1994, opposed World Health Organization standards calling for acceptance of homosexuality.

Western governments removed homosexuality from their lists of mental illnesses decades ago.

A Small Step Forward

The news pleased gay rights advocates. "This is progress," said Chinese-born Li Ma, a former project coordinator at the Asian & Pacific Islanders Coaltion on HIV/AIDS in New York.

"I think it means that we'll have more understanding," she said.

The association decided to make the revision upon recommendation of a task force which spent five years overhauling China's classifications of mental illness. The recommendation was unanimously approved by the psychiatric association's standing committee last month.

In China, homosexuals have often been ostracized by the community, and the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s made them even more unwelcome.

Sometimes, they are avoided as if they have a communicable disease, said Li, and sometimes people throw stones at them.

Although homosexuality has never been declared illegal in China, authorities have seized homosexuals for sundry charges — especially in the era of stringent conformity that followed the communist takeover of 1949.

A Changing China

But as China becomes increasingly Westernized, and the cities on the country's eastern coast become richer and more populous, an underground gay and lesbian community is developing.

Nearly all of China's major cities have at least one gay and lesbian bar, and the Internet has expanded the community by providing it with an easy and anonymous gathering place.

Traditional literature is also full of references to male and female homosexuality, where it was viewed as harmless unless it interfered with one's duty to have a family.

In the past 20 years, the Communist government has been more forgiving as well — so long as gays and lesbians do not openly challenge the regime.

Still, Li says it will be a while before any real change happens in the everyday lives of Chinese gays and lesbians. "The change is from the top, but most people you see, they won't change that quickly," she said.