Shutdown of online lesbian community on China’s twitter-like Sina Weibo sparks protest

By Ji Yuqiao Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/15 19:23:44

Participants attend the annual Pink Dot event which aims to raise awareness about the LGBT community in Singapore in 2017. Photo: IC

 China's LGBT groups have launched a protest against Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo for shutting down an online community featuring lesbian topics, demanding protection for the group's rights and letting their voices heard. 

The community with hashtag "les" on Sina Weibo has been removed as many users claimed that when they attempted to open the website on Saturday, they found that it had already been closed. 

Similar to an online forum, Weibo users who share common interests would open a community with a themed hashtag on Sina Weibo to share their views and stories. A large community normally attracts millions of members. 

The "les" community had more than 143,000 members and provided them a platform to share their stories and worries about coming out, Hua Zile, chief editor of Voice of Gay magazine , told the Global Times on Monday.  

We did not expect the online community to be shut down without any warning, Hua said, adding that "more than 500 netizens left messages on our Weibo account after it had been removed."

Global Times asked the Weibo customer service on Monday why the community page was closed. They suggested checking whether the community contains abusive and personal attack content.  

A regulation published by Sina Weibo in 2012 said that users are banned from posting "illegal and harmful information" in the community, including content which "harms national security, incites unlawful assembly and advocates violence and eroticism." On March 18, the platform said it had blocked or removed 134,000 posts that spread "harmful information" about current politics as part of a campaign to cleanse its platform.

Some members of the "les" community claimed they had not found any illegal content as stated in the regulation.

The shutdown has triggered uproar among lesbians, with the topic hashtagged "les" receiving 780 million views on Sina Weibo as of press time. 

A popular writer of gay romance novels, feitianyexiang, said that "no one needs to feel sorry because of loving someone from the same gender."

Xiao Duan from the Beijing LGBT center told the Global Times that the closure of the "les" community was a blow to the rights of the LGBT group.

"If we keep silent today, there will be more hashtags and online communities about LGBT being shut down tomorrow," Xiao Duan said.

Xiao Duan's center called on women to post photos or videos with their mouths open but without a sound to protest the closure.

This was not the first time that Sina Weibo removed content about the LGBT group. An announcement published on April 13, 2018 vowed to remove violence, eroticism and homosexual content on Weibo.

After the announcement, a hashtag titled "I am a homosexual" was launched and many users joined it to protest the action. Sina Weibo later reversed its ban on gay-themed content and said the campaign won't target gay-related content anymore, and will focus on blocking pornographic and violent content.

China has around 70 million gays, lesbians and bisexuals, or about 4-6 percent of the Chinese population, Li Yinhe, a well-known Chinese sociologist and sexologist was quoted in a report in  domestic news portal Research shows that a person's sexual orientation is usually established during early childhood and is difficult to change. 

China has made progress in attitudes toward homosexuality, such as the abolition of the homosexual "crime of hooliganism."  Chinese people have become more tolerant and inclusive toward homosexuality. 

Although China does not recognize same-sex marriage, it has removed homosexuality as a mental illness.

An article published by People's Daily in April 2018 said respect and protection of people with a different sexual orientation reflects the level of civilization in a society. Sexual orientation is, in essence, an individual right, and all citizens are free to live the life they choose. Homosexual people are a minority. Protecting minority people's rights is a must to realize fairness and justice. 

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