China's Weibo backflips on gay content ban amid fierce backlash

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China's Sina Weibo on Monday reversed a decision to remove gay content after outcry among gay Chinese who say the company had smeared homosexuality by lumping it with pornography as it tried to meet government censorship directives. Numerous dissenting posts complaining about the ban were themselves blocked by Weibo. Under the new laws, companies like Weibo could be punished or investigated by the government for promoting content deemed "unsafe or offensive", according to the New York Times.

China's LGBT community and their allies responded immediately to the announcement with hashtag campaigns, with the declaration #我是同性恋# (I am gay) reaching almost 300 million views before it was blocked on Saturday.

"As the gay community gets stronger, they have started to fight against discrimination", Wei said.

Following Weibo's initial announcement Friday, more than a million users have viewed hashtags in support of LGBT rights, with many sharing their own experiences as an LGBT person or a parent of one.

The post drew more than 24,000 comments, was forwarded more than 110,000 times, and prompted users to protest against the decision, using the hashtag "I am gay".

In a post that has since been removed by the site, another user defiantly wrote, "Can't stop the rising rainbow" and included a rainbow emoji. The same hashtag was also viewed almost 300 million times, Reuters reported.

Many posted selfies with the words "I am gay not a pevert", followed by a chain of rainbow emoticons.

Some sought refuge on Twitter, where they expressed their displeasure. "What can we do?"

Much of the homosexual content on Weibo is fuelled not by LGBT activists, who are quite low-profile, but by the large online community of "funu" ("rotten girls") - heterosexual women who are avid fans of male gay romances and share comics or stories, frequently erotic.

While homosexuality is not illegal in China and few Chinese have religious objections to it, a traditional, conservative preference for conventional marriage and childbearing creates barriers for LGBT people. Authorities have issued bans on the portrayal of same-sex relationships on television and online series, and China's official textbooks contain homophobic content.

"People who are ready to come out are going to be pushed back to where they used to be, faced with pressure and helplessness", he said.

The People's Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, also appeared to criticize Weibo in a Sunday editorial.

In an interview with CNN, Hua Zile, founder of a Weibo page focused on gay rights that was told it would be shut down, said he felt "totally surprised and touched" by the new announcement. "It's awesome to see this happen now, with everyone - straight or gay, celebrities or ordinary people - using the hashtag and joining in".

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