In a rare reversal, one of China’s largest social media platforms has backtracked from a decision to clamp down on gay content on its platform.
Chinese social media backtracks from gay ban
Weibo, a Twitter-like website, will “no longer target gay content but focus on removing violent and pornographic content,” the company said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
In an announcement on Friday, the social media company had said it would launch a three-month campaign to clean up pornographic, violent and gay-related content, prompting an outpouring of anger from all parts of society, including a rare and thinly veiled rebuke in the state-run People’s Daily newspaper.
“It’s a common sense that homosexuality is not a mental disease,” the piece said. “The respect and protection for people with different sexual orientations reflects a country’s level of civilization.”
The public outrage over Weibo’s announcement on Friday came swift and loud, as the country tightens control over ever more facets of civil society.
Weibo’s move appears to have been a response to a state clampdown on indecency that targeted many popular social media apps, including news aggregating app Toutiao which was temporarily pulled from app stores after being accused of promoting underage pregnancy.
Gay-themed cartoons and stories are common on Weibo, some more graphic than others, and have a large underage readership.
Homosexuality is not officially illegal in China, although it’s frowned upon by the government. Gay-themed films and TV shows have been banned by the authorities in the past.
In March, the Oscar-winning gay romance Call Me By Your Name was pulled from the Beijing International Film Festival.
Over the weekend, Tens of thousands of people posted to Weibo with the hashtag #IAmGay.
Many announced that they would boycott the platform for equating being gay with being violent and vulgar.
“I am the mother of a gay person,” wrote Shanghai Meijie, a Weibo user. “It’s violent of Weibo as a major news platform to discriminate against the LGBT community.”
In less than 24 hours, the #IAmGay discussion page had been read by almost 250 million people.
The site banned the discussion page associated with the term, but people continued to post using the hashtag.
Hua Zile, who originated #IAmGay in 2011, said he’s proud to see people rallied against Weibo’s announcement. His LGBT rights advocacy group, The Voice of China LGBT, is a key voice in the nation’s LGBT community.
“This is a miracle, a historic moment,” Hua told Inkstone. “Never has any Weibo topic related to gay rights had such a big readership.”
Although Weibo backtracked from its original announcement today, many users are not convinced it understands why people are angry.
Zhu Jiankang, a Weibo user who used #IAmGay to announce his sexual orientation after the incident, said he’s surprised Weibo backtracked but disappointed it did not apologize.
“We have been posting so much content on Weibo and it has finally forced the giant to bend itself,” Zhu told Inkstone. “But they are still arrogant and unapologetic.”
Despite the public anger, however, many feel heartened by the public response to Weibo’s announcement.
“China is slowly accepting and starting to care about the LGBT community,” Xin Ying, the director of the Beijing LGBT Center, told Inkstone. “LGBT culture is very visible in China now.”
Xin pointed out public figures and well-known companies – everything from Chinese liquor companies to makers of orthopedic back braces – joined the rally to speak up for the LGBT community.
“Only speaking up will bring change,” Voice of China LGBT founder Hua Zile wrote in a statement to his 240,000 followers after the news that Weibo had backed down.
China’s LGBT community is finding its voice – and it’s proving hard to ignore.