Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, has reversed a short-lived ban on LGBT-related content following an outcry from the country’s internet users.
- The social media company announced the ban on LGBT content last Friday
- It reversed the decision Monday after a huge backlash from Chinese netizens
- Homosexuality is not a criminal offence in China, but discrimination is still a problem
Weibo announced last Friday that it would remove LGBT-related content from its site in order to comply with the country’s cybersecurity laws and create a “clear and harmonious environment”.
The move was part of the company’s three-month “detoxification” effort to remove posts that are pornographic, violent or refer to homosexuality.
The move drew the ire of Weibo’s almost 400 million users, many of whom held an online protest using the hashtag #IAmGay, which was posted over 500,000 times and viewed more than 530 million times.
Personal stories and photos poured in from users who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, as their supporters rebuked the online company and the Chinese Government.
Li and Duan married in Los Angeles because same-sex marriage remains illegal in China. (Supplied: Li and Duan)
“I am the mother of a gay son. My son and I love our country. We tell people proudly that we’re from China wherever where we go,” wrote Weibo user Shanghai Auntie Mei.
“However, I saw Sina Weibo put homosexuality in the same category as pornography and violence. I suddenly felt in this powerful country, Sina Weibo is violently discriminating against a sexual minority!”
Feili Xie, a 28-year-old gay man from Beijing, told the ABC he had been “terrified” by the ban, but that the #IAmGay movement was heartening.
“We are not perverts, we are just normal people,” said Mr Xie, who is a professional consultant and a Weibo user.
“Weibo’s decision to remove gay-related content was a violation to my rights, and showed no respect to my sexual identity.”
Weibo said in a statement released today that the ban would no longer target LGBT-related content — but not before the social media site deleted the #IAmGay hashtag, and shut down popular pro-LGBT rights accounts such as The Voice of Gay, which had more than 200,000 followers.
The hashtag remained active however, with social media users simply switching up the Chinese characters they used to spell the phrase.
“Weibo was obviously pressured to reverse the ban, but the statement seemed hasty and too brief,” said Sam Sun, a manager at Beijing Gender, a Beijing-based non-governmental organisation that advocates for gender and sexual diversity and sexual health.
“Will they recover the closed accounts? Will they apologise? Many in the community are still disappointed.”
Sina Weibo did not respond to a request for comment.
Decriminalised, but discrimination still a problem
University students and the local residents were marching together in Nanjing, Jiangsu province on April 16. (AP)
Homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997, but it was still classified as a mental disorder until 2001.
A 2016 UN report found only 5 per cent of China’s LGBT citizens have disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity outside of their families, and only 15 per cent have told their families.
The report also found that more than half of them were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
Public hospitals and private clinics in China continue to offer conversation therapy as of today.
“The Chinese law currently does not contain discriminatory descriptions of the LGBT community, but there is also no specific articles that protect the LGBT people,” Yu Liying, a lawyer from Hebei, told the ABC.
The film Call Me by Your Name, which revolves around a homosexual relationship, was pulled from the Beijing Film Festival earlier this month.
China also banned audio-visual content on sites such as Weibo that show any “display of homosexuality” last June.
“There are no laws or regulations that specifically ban gay-related content, but when we go to the cinema in China, we will never be able to see a gay-themed movie,” Mr Sun said.
“Given the tightening control on media and also social media content, we are very worried that the online space for people to discuss LGBT issues will be even more limited in the future.”
Just like the tens of thousands of LGBT Chinese citizens who have been forced underground, Mr Sun said advocates and grassroots rights groups also face constant pressure from police and the public security department.
“It is clear that the Chinese Government gets worried to see a group of people gather … our organisation is attracting more and more people,” he said.
“LGBT rights are human rights. The LGBT community’s situation won’t change until China improves on overall human rights.”