By Natalie Thomas
BEIJING (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.
It is not illegal to be gay in China and these days many large Chinese cities have thriving gay scenes, though there is still a lot of family pressure to get married and have children, even for gay men and women.
Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder until 2001.
However, 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.
She first raised the issue and lodged legal cases with the Ministry of Education in 2015, as well as with publishers of the textbooks. But her complaints were ignored and her applications were rejected.
A promise by the Ministry of Education to deal with her case through their internal mediation process in return for dropping one of the lawsuits also failed to materialize, Qiu said.
The Ministry of Education did not send a lawyer to Monday's hearing, and representatives declined to answer reporters' questions. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
While the fact that the case has finally come to court is seen by many as a victory in itself, Qiu, who wants the ministry to recall the textbooks, said she was disappointed by the ministry's attitude.
"As someone studying within the education system, when the Ministry of Education tells me that the education materials have no connection with us and we won't deal with it, it's really disappointing."
Other gay rights cases have also hit roadblocks. In April, a Chinese court rejected a landmark case by two men who had sought permission to get legally married.
Qiu's case has received relatively sympathetic coverage in state media and online, though only a handful of supporters turned up outside the court house.
Qiu's lawyer, Wang Zhenyu, said he was not optimistic.
"But I hope that the judge can fulfill their responsibility in line with the law and give us a ruling that we can accept," Wang said.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)