Weibo backtracks on gay censorship after outcry in China

A person uses the popular social app Weibo

Weibo backtracks on gay censorship after outcry in China

China's Sina Weibo will remove gay and violent content, including pictures, cartoons and text posts, during a three-month clean-up campaign, the microblogging platform said.

The investigation will instead "primarily focus on pornographic and violent material", Weibo's statement said.

The official Sina Weibo account states that the new guidelines were implemented to "fulfill corporate responsibility" and to "create a bright and harmonious community environment". By late Friday, the hashtags #iamgay and #iamgaynotapervert had gone viral on the service, with users posting photos with their partners, angry comments and rainbow emojis.

Another wrote: "I am gay and I'm proud, even if I get taken down there are tens of millions like me".

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But after a two-year delay, Chinese theatres on Friday finally released "Seek McCartney", a film about a secret homosexual romance between Chinese and French lovers that has been hailed as the country's first gay movie.

In an usual move, Weibo then backtracked on its decision, and said in an announcement (link in Chinese) that its clean-up would no longer target any gay content, without offering more details.

"What's transpired in the last 48 hours is enough to prove that only speaking up can bring about changes", it said.

While homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997 and there is a growing awareness of LGBT issues in the country, with lively gay scenes springing up in big cities and gay pride parades beginning to emerge, China has no laws protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But Beijing's official stance towards depictions of homosexuality in the media is repressive, if inconsistently enforced. "But today ... I suddenly [find] that in this strong country, Sina Weibo is discriminating against and attacking this sexual minority".

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Yet exceptions have occasionally been made.

The affair has highlighted the cultural gap between younger Chinese more open to LGBT issues and "China's older generation - mostly very conservative 40-year-old men - who are now the main force of our society because they control the resources", Xiao Tie, director of the Beijing LGBT Center, told AFP, using a nickname. Barry Jenkin's gay-themed Oscar Moonlight was similarly allowed to stream a year ago on iQiyi, a local Netflix-like platform.

She lamented the loss of a popular Weibo account called the Gay Voice, which was deleted on Saturday. But an outcry over the weekend appears to have changed Weibo's stance.

Monday's reversal was met with an outpouring of support. "It's unbelievable to see this happen now, with everyone - straight or gay, celebrities or ordinary people - using the hashtag and joining in".

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