Trans Chinese teens forced into 'conversion therapy' - study

Friday, 6 September 2019 15:00 GMT
Conversion therapy is a widely discredited belief that being LGBT is a mental illness that can be cured

By Michael Taylor

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 6 (Openly) - Trans teenagers in China face abuse at home and bullying at school, with almost one in five forced into conversion therapies, according to a survey released on Friday.

The researchers called for the widely discredited therapy - be it hypnosis or electric shocks - to be outlawed, saying transgender youths in China face a "hostile" environment.

"There are still hospitals and clinics that have conversion therapy for sexual minorities," said Runsen Chen, lead author of the study.

"It should be banned in the future, in China," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The online survey questioned 385 people aged from 12 to 18 who are transgender or do not identify as male or female.

It was conducted by the Beijing LGBT Center between January and September 2017 and analysed by researchers at Beijing Anding Hospital, Capital Medical University in March of this year.

It found that 17% of respondents had been coerced or forced to undergo conversion therapy, 45% were at risk of major depressive disorder and 51% experienced suicidal thoughts.

The specific types of conversion therapy were not listed.

Conversion therapy rests on the belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness that can be cured. It is widely discredited by medics.

Worldwide, Malta, Ecuador and Brazil have banned conversion therapy, while Britain, along with parts of Canada and Australia, are mulling bans, according to ILGA, a network of LGBT+ rights groups.

After decades of Communist Party prudery about sex of all kinds, LGBT+ Chinese have in recent years openly challenged bureaucracy, legal uncertainty and entrenched social norms to assert their place in society.

There is no reliable data on China's transgender population but, globally, an estimated 25 million people, or 0.3%-0.5% of people, are transgender, according to a study in the Lancet.

Home to a thriving gay scene in its major cities, China has no laws against same-sex relations and there is growing awareness of LGBT+ issues.

But China, whose parliament last month ruled out following neighbouring Taiwan in allowing same-sex marriage, does not ban conversion therapy and homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder until 2001.

The new research is the first comprehensive national study to look at the rates of abuse, neglect, and bullying from family, classmates or teachers among the Chinese transgender community, according to the researchers.

Its scope was limited however, as all those who took part were required to have internet access, which resulted in most respondents living in urban China, Chen said.

It found that among the 319 teens who said their parents knew their gender identity, 93% had experienced parental abuse or neglect and, among all the youths, 77% reported abuse or bullying at school from classmates or teachers.

Chen called on the government to provide better training for psychiatrists who work with trans people suffering the fallout of such widespread abuse.

Schools should also develop plans to protect transgender students, training teachers and students alike. And the government could show parents how to support their transgender children and step in to curb any family abuse, the study said.

"Transgender and gender non-binary adolescents in China face significant challenges," it added. "The environment for gender minorities in China appears to be hostile."

(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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