A 30-year-old Chinese man filed a case on Thursday (March 13) against US-listed Baidu for promoting gay conversion therapy offered by a psychological consultancy in its search engine.
A court in Beijing will decide in the next few days whether to proceed with the lawsuit against Baidu and Chongqing-based Xin Yu Piao Xiang (XYPX).
Baidu, the fifth most frequently website in the world, has broken various laws for displaying advertisements by XYPX with false claims about changing sexual orientation, according to volunteer lawyer Huang Yizhi.
Last August, the gay man, who goes by the name of ‘Xiao Zhen’, googled the terms ‘homosexuality’ and ‘gay therapy’ on Baidu and the first result he got each time was an advertisement by XYPX.
With XYPX promising to cure him of homosexuality with a 30,000 yuan ($4880, €3525) treatment course, Xiao Zhen travelled all the way from the capital to Chongqing last month.
‘The psychological counsellor asked me to lie down for hypnotization, leading me to imagine being with another guy,’ he said. ‘I was electroshocked each time I was aroused.
‘I was freaked out and jumped up at once, but he insisted that it was all right and that one needed persistence to succeed.’
He told Gay Star News he only paid 500 yuan for his first and only treatment.
‘To complete the whole course would mean 20, 30 times of such therapy,’ he said. ‘I found it quite scary to have to go through this each time.’
Now Xiao Zhen becomes tense easily and is even more afraid of being hurt or discriminated against due to his sexuality.
After Baidu – whose market share in China is about 60% - repeatedly ignored his complaints online, Xiao Zhen decided to go to court with the search engine as the first defendant because of its huge impact on the general public.
Ah Qiang, director PFLAG China, has likewise slammed the internet heavyweight for lacking social responsibility.
‘Baidu has not only illegally promoted false advertisements, but it also gives priority to such sham claims about gay conversion in its recommendation to users.
‘It has effectively spread the message that homosexuality is a disease that has to be treated,’ he said.
Indeed, Ah Qiang had already reported to the government last year that XYPX operated without a license, made false promotional claims and engaged in medical practice illegally.
It was later revealed by local broadcaster CBG that XYPX ran ‘special training camps’ in the hills, where gays were accompanied around the clock by instructors and psychological teachers.
But this Chongqing consultancy is hardly the only business of its kind in China. In December, two LGBTI activists sent complaints to relevant authorities in as many as 10 cities about shocking gay conversion therapy.
‘[These] organizations make use of people’s misunderstanding, discrimination and prejudice to carry out business frauds,’ said Ah Qiang, who calls on the government to regulate and penalize these businesses and protect LGBTIs’ basic rights.
Xiao Zhen's civil complaint to the People's Court for Haidian District, Beijing