China's Twitter, Weibo, Reverses Gay Ban After Facing Backlash From LGBT Activists

Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, has reversed a ban on homosexual content after the LGBT community accused the company of unfairly grouping gay content with violence and pornography.

On Friday, Weibo announced plans to remove violent, pornographic and homosexual videos and cartoons over the next three months, singling out a genre of manga that often depicts gay male relationships for particular criticism.

The decision sparked outrage in the Chinese LGBT community, with activists taking to social media to condemn the microblogging website with the hashtags #IAmGay and #IAmGayNotAPervert. They also wrote open letters and made calls for others to drop shares in Sina Corporation, a technology company that launched Weibo in 2009.

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong takes part in the annual pride parade in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2017. On Monday, Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, reversed their decision to censor gay content over the next three months, after facing backlash from the LGBT community. Reuters

Following the backlash, Sina Weibo said on Monday it would no longer target gay content and will only focus on pornographic and violent materials. "This clean-up of games and cartoons will no longer target gay content. Thank you everyone for the discussion and your suggestions," the company said in a statement.

It is unclear whether Sina's measure was a direct result of a censorship directive from the government or an initiative taken by the company itself.

According to LGBT advocates, the outcry reflects a fear that growing censorship tends to ban all gay content as "dirty," a setback for efforts to carve out an online space of tolerance for homosexuality in China's traditionally Confucian society. The hashtag #IAmGay was viewed almost 300 million times on the microblogging platform before it was censored on Saturday.

On Sunday, the People's Daily, an official Communist Party newspaper, encouraged tolerance toward gay people. However, it noted that "vulgar" content must be removed regardless of whether it pertains to homosexuality or heterosexuality.

Chinese social network Weibo is banning gay content. People are protesting today using the hashtag #我是同性恋 (#iamgay). Some screenshots from the app.

— Erwin Vogelaar 🍁🍂 (@ErwinVogelaar) April 14, 2018

Chinese LGBT advocates hope to promote gay rights by educating society about sexual preferences and pushing back against traditional pressures to marry and have children.

Social media is a key "battle ground" where LGBT advocates take on conservative celebrities who dish out popular dating advice, such as saying that the best couples marry early, produce sons and are straight, according to Xiao Tie, head of the Beijing LGBT Centre.

"The problem with the policy is that it equates LGBT content with porn," Xiao said on Sunday.

Xiao believes the government is not actively anti-LGBT. Just that it has no clear idea how to deal with the issue. "But the bigger problem is the culture of strict censorship," she said.

"Social media used to be an open space, but in the last year things have started to change."

‘I Am Gay, Not a Pervert’: Furor Erupts in China as Sina Weibo Bans Gay Content @ILoveGayChina #GayChina #IAmGay #IAmGayNotAPervert @NYTimes

— 🏳️‍🌈 (@LGBTPinkieB) April 15, 2018

According to a 2016 United Nations survey titled "A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE)," just 15 percent of China's LGBT community have come out to their parents, while only 5 percent are publicly gay. Beijing's attitude towards gay people is still dated, with both private and public medical agencies using "conversion therapy".

Last year, a survey placed Beijing at the bottom of a list of 100 best to worst places to live for people from the LGBT community. Shanghai come in at number 89, while Hong Kong placed 83.

Sina Weibo did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.