'I am gay' protests as China bans 'homosexual' content on Weibo

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NETIZENS in China have put an abrupt stop to social media site Sina Weibo's plans to ban all material relating to gay culture in what they called a 3-month "clean-up" effort.

In a post via the official Weibo account, the Weibo Community Manager said that starting April 13, the site would "fulfill the corporate responsibility" and comply with Chinese Internet Security Laws by closely policing content for a three-month period.

But the Twitter-like platform backtracked on Monday, stating on its administrators' official account: "This clean-up of games and manga is no longer directed at homosexual content, but is primarily to clean up pornographic and bloody, violent content".

Homosexuality is not illegal in China, and the country's big cities boast vibrant, semi-open gay scenes.

It was unclear whether Weibo's measure was a direct result of a censorship directive from the government or an initiative taken by the company itself. Sina did not respond to a request for comment.

In a possible sign of internal government division on the issue, the People's Daily - the Communist Party's mouthpiece - on Sunday published a widely shared commentary on its social media platforms, reaffirming the diversity of sexual orientations and the importance of non-discrimination.

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

But Weibo's crackdown backfired after tens of thousands of users protested against the LGBT ban under the hashtag "I am gay". Still, some said the company owed gays an apology.

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This week, news and online content portal Toutiao, which is luring investors, was forced to pull a joke sharing app after a watchdog denounced its "vulgar and improper content".

The fight against Sina's decision saw LGBT groups, advocates and gay Chinese go online en masse to speak out.

The tag "I am gay" was viewed almost 300 million times on Weibo before being censored on Saturday.

Following Weibo's initial announcement Friday, more than a million users have viewed hashtags in support of LGBT rights, with many sharing their own experiences as an LGBT person or a parent of one.

Beijing-based advocacy group PFLAG China on Sunday called on Sina's shareholders to punish the "evil" acts of the NASDAQ-listed company by "voting with their feet" and selling shares.

Hao Kegui, one such writer, came out as a lesbian in an open letter published on social media past year where she describes how she had felt pressured into marrying a man to please her parents.

In 2017, the Chinese authorities issued a cybersecurity law that banned "displays of homosexuality" from audio-visual content on China's video platforms, along with other perverse content like incest and sexual violence.

"I worry the censorship will cause more people to just live in the closet and never come out".