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After Outcry, Weibo Does U-Turn on Gay Content Ban

Members of an LGBT organization participate in a marathon in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in November 2015. Photo: VCG
Members of an LGBT organization participate in a marathon in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in November 2015. Photo: VCG

Twitter-like Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo on Monday reversed its decision to target gay topics in its latest “content clearance” campaign, after millions protested online and official media outlets endorsed tolerance.

The latest controversy came after Weibo said (link in Chinese) Friday evening that it would for the next three months clear cartoons, games and videos, including those that have gay themes or are violent or pornographic, citing “laws and regulations.” The only law specifically mentioned was the Cybersecurity Law.

However, the Cybersecurity Law doesn’t refer to LGBT issues. “I was surprised that the rule turned out to be very abrupt, and many from the LGBT circle have immediately taken action to work on solutions,” said Martin Yang, director of the non-governmental organization (NGO) China AIDS Walk.

Weibo’s announcement triggered public outrage. Over the weekend, millions showed their support for China’s gay community, using the five-character Chinese-language hashtag phrase “wo shi tongxinglian” (“I am gay”).

“I am the mother of a gay person,” a Shanghai woman named Mei wrote in a post on the social network, which was shared 11,000 times. She wrote that “Sina Weibo has discriminated against a minority group by associating gay people with pornography and violence.”

The official People’s Daily in a Saturday opinion piece published on Weibo (link in Chinese) said that “it is common sense to respect people's sexual orientation” and that “being gay is not a mental disease.”

Sina Weibo, which vowed not to target gay content on Monday, said (link in Chinese) that it “thanks everyone for the discussions and suggestions.” 

“I think Sina (Weibo) overinterpreted the official stance on gay issues,” said Wei Liang, and LGBT rights activist who works for the NGOs PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) China and LGBT Rights Advocacy China.

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

But Wei said that the official stance on gay rights is still “unclear.”

The Cybersecurity Law doesn’t mention LGBT issues, and the Chinese Psychiatric Association in 2001 removed homosexuality and bisexuality from their list of illnesses. However, a ban on depictions of gay people in online video and audio content was unveiled last year.

The China Netcasting Services Association, the industry group that launched the ban, said that gay people have “abnormal sexual relationships” similar to incest or rape.

A gay man named Xiao Wu filed an official application with the country’s top media watchdog, asking it to explain the legitimacy of the ban. His application was rejected.

Xiao then filed a lawsuit against the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT). The case was heard by Beijing’s First Intermediate People’s Court in February, but no decision has been announced yet.

The case has been complicated by the fact that since a major government shakeup in March, the SAPPRFT no longer exists, Zhu Bao, a lawyer involved in the case, told Caixin.

Contact reporter Coco Feng (renkefeng@caixin.com)

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