‘I am gay’ hashtag protest prompts Chinese social network to reverse gay censorship plan

It was seen nearly 300 million times on Sina Weibo before the reversal.

CREDIT: VCG/VCG via Getty Images
CREDIT: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

China’s largest social media network has reversed a plan to censor all content about homosexuality in the wake of a massive protest.

On Friday, Sina Weibo — a microblogging platform with nearly 400 million active users, often described as China’s Twitter — announced a “clean-up campaign” that would be removing “illegal” content, including “manga and videos with pornographic implications, promoting violence, or (related to) homosexuality.”

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The decision seemed to be a response to efforts by the Chinese government last year to crack down on web content. Last summer, for example, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) sent a notice to online literature platforms that they would be judged based on how well their content promotes “the core values of socialism.” Such regulations have targeted content considered “immoral,” including pornography and erotic fiction, but the dragnet has also caught things like hip hop and the #MeToo movement.

Following Sina Weibo’s announcement, a popular Weibo page called “The Gay Voice” told its 230,000 followers it would cease operations, which in turn sparked a backlash to the new policy. Users started protesting using the hashtag “I am gay,” often posting it along with selfies. Before the phrase was banned on Saturday, some 170,000 Weibo users had used it — and it had been viewed nearly 300 million times.

On Monday, Sina Weibo reversed and said that its clean-up would no longer target gay content.

Homosexuality has not been illegal in China since 1997, but LGBTQ activists are still working very hard to fight stigma in the country. The crackdown has had a chilling effect on those efforts, with many concerned that any gay themes will be automatically censored as “dirty,” “vulgar,” or “immoral.”

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This was evident in a commentary published Sunday by the People’s Daily, the publication controlled by the Community Party. While it claimed support for the diversity of sexual orientations, it also warned against using gay themes to create provocative content. “Homosexuals are also ordinary citizens,” it said. “While they advocate for their rights, they also must bear their social responsibilities.”

For now, at least, activists are celebrating a victory of visibility.