|Lu Zhong, from Zherong county, Fujian Province, walks silently to his wedding ceremony with his future husband on October 2, 2012, as onlookers whisper.|
Ah Yan (pseudonym) could see the white-coated "doctor" approaching with a prod.
It was a small clinic, with one doctor and two assistants. It looked like a psychologist's chamber, with a TV, table, and chairs. But instead of sitting down on the couch, he was strapped to it.
The doctor touched the prod to Ah Yan's wrist. Instantly, unbearable pain passed through his body. Even though he was strapped down, he convulsed uncontrollably.
"I can't do this," he told the doctor.
"This is a must if you want to convert," the doctor said. Then the process resumed.
Today, Ah Yan, 25, identifies himself as a gay man. But two years ago, he wasn't comfortable with who he was. He found a clinic through a Baidu search that claimed to do "gay conversion therapy" and received about two months of shock treatment and drugs.
Even though conversion therapy is now illegal in many Western countries, and in two states in the US, in China there isn't yet a law banning the treatment. Over the years, many gay men and women in China have taken this treatment in hope of turning themselves "normal."
Since June, the Beijing LGBT Center has been doing research on the negative effects of such therapy. Even though the research is only at an early stage, it is the first time Chinese advocates have attempted to counter the pernicious effects of such "therapies."
For the past 50 years, people throughout the world have tried different ways to alter sexuality, said Damien Lu, who works for the Los Angeles County department of mental health and hosts an advice column on gay rights website aibai.com. In the West, it was almost completely religiously motivated, because some denominations of Christianity believe homosexuality to be a sin.
In China, however, many turn to conversion therapy out of social pressure, said Jiang Lan, a counselor at the Beijing LGBT Center who is directly involved in the designing of the project. The center has interviewed four victims so far and they all shared similar experiences with Ah Yan.
"We have two situations at hand; one is they told their parents and are afraid the parents won't accept them, so they go get treated. Or they themselves are afraid of being gay and found a clinic," she said. "There are many clinics or organizations that claim to have such treatments."
Ah Yan thought he didn't have a choice. It was 2011 and he had just graduated college, as well as having broken up with his first boyfriend. They had maintained a secret relationship for about two years, and then graduation and a new reality broke the two young men apart.
"He needed to return to the north with his family, and we both felt it was hard to keep going down this path," Ah Yan told the Global Times. "He faced a lot of pressure. He was the only son and his parents wanted him to marry."
Ah Yan didn't dare tell his family about this relationship. Pressured and anxious, he thought being gay would be difficult in China and wanted to change his sexual orientation. So when the Baidu search turned up the clinic, he called without a doubt.
Yang Jianhua, a 55-year-old father in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, once shared Ah Yan's concern. When he found out his son was gay in May, he cried.
"He came out to me and his mother. I could not accept it, and my tears flowed uncontrollably," Yang said. "I immediately thought of taking him to a clinic to consult about this issue. He was so young and has never dated before, maybe he will change."
Fortunately, the doctor Yang went to see told him that being gay wasn't a disease and his son didn't need treatment. Since then, Yang worked on accepting his son's homosexuality.