In a crackdown against LGBTQ awareness groups and rights, Tencent’s WeChat social media platform on Tuesday evening blocked and wiped all past content of the accounts LGBT+ groups on campuses of China’s top universities.
The message when the users tried to access their accounts read: “In response to related complaints, all content has been blocked for violating the ‘Regulations on the Management of Internet User Official Account Information Services,’ and all usage of the account has been suspended.”
The on-campus LGBTQ clubs in major universities have never been officially recognised. Hence they continued to operate unofficially for years under the radar, posting content online and carrying out certain activities when possible amidst periodic crackdowns.
However, as per reports, late Tuesday evening, users unexpectedly found that not just social media accounts for most such groups but even gender-related academic research associations had been wiped off completely from the web. No reason was given for the current suspension of accounts. It is a known fact that civil society accounts are often shut down in China amidst crackdowns on activism.
These LGBTQ groups served different purposes which offered space for gaining knowledge on LGBTQ issues, organizing weekly volunteer-led online support groups and Q&A sessions, research and a space for sharing gender-related academic research.
Groups and supporters react to the suspension
A WeChat user reacting to the incident said, “I can’t accept these accounts being disappeared like this – they helped so many people like me.” He said that this clean-up action is tantamount to outright discrimination and persecution of China’s sexual minorities.
“It’s very painful seeing this,” remarked Fan Popo, a Chinese filmmaker now based in Berlin. Popo has worked with a number of the groups for his documentaries on LGBTQ issues (“The VaChina Monologues,” “Mama Rainbow”).
“It’s such a shame that even the very limited space they had is now not even allowed. It’s such a shame for the students involved who are so passionate, because in recent years they have definitely faced ever stronger pressure from the universities, the government and social media censor, but still insist on doing their work,” added Popo.
The accounts that have been deleted include: Tsinghua University’s unofficial LGBTQ club Purple, Peking University’s unofficial LGBTQ club Colorsworld; Fudan University’s Zhiheshe; Wuhan University’s Gender Equality Research Association; Nanjing University’s Same Sky Association for Gender Equality; Xi’An Academy of Fine Art’s Olive Tree Group; Renmin University of China’s Sex and Gender Research Society, and similar research-oriented groups at Huazhong University of Science and Technology and East China Normal University, among numerous others located across China.
China and homosexuality
Homosexuality is legal in China but was classified as a mental disorder until 2001. However, same sex marriage is not recognised. Social stigma and pressure make it difficult for people to coming out. Earlier this year, a court upheld a university’s description of homosexuality as ‘psychological disorder’. Further, last year, China’s Pride festival was also cancelled after organisers cited safety concerns.
China’s clampdown on ‘gay content’
It is imperative to note that companies can face financial and other consequences for failing to comply with China’s strict censorship standards.
Foreign films featuring gay content have also been censored in China regularly, with the Beijing International Film Festival abruptly canceling the screening of “Call Me By Your Name,” and all references to Queen singer Freddie Mercury’s sexual identity and AIDS cut from “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
In 2018, a Weibo campaign to “clean up” gay-themed posts on its platform as part of a sweep against pornographic, violent or illegal content sparked a huge controversy forcing the social media giant to change its policy.
In 2019, Weibo had to back down from its decision to shut down a prominent community for lesbian and bisexual women called “les” after millions came out in support of the group.
We reported how certain sections from the recently aired popular sitcom ‘Friends: The Reunion’ was censored for carrying gay content, hinting at China’s censorship being at an all-time high.