LGBTQ in China Deplore ‘Dark Day’ After Social Media Crackdown | Censorship news

Chengdu, China – A week ago without warning, WeChat, a popular social media platform in China, permanently suspended the official accounts of more than a dozen university LGBTQ groups, sparking new debate over the country’s already threatened community .

The suspensions have widely affected groups almost entirely led by students, including at prestigious academic institutions such as Tsinghua and Beijing Universities. The groups’ missions, according to their brief introductions, were to “advance gender equality and the rights of sexual minorities.”

Several students who manage LGBTQ group accounts told Al Jazeera that they had not previously received any warning from relevant authorities about a possible suspension.

Mary, a student who was involved in one of the suspended groups, says that although there had been “discussions” on campus about regulating “groups that defend the rights of sexual minorities” for the past few months, nothing had not materialized.

“It came as a surprise, but at the same time, not so much,” said Mary, who preferred not to use her real name for security reasons. “We knew that the LGBT rights movement was facing one after another in China, but at least we thought that by being affiliated with a university, we could be exempt from any overt repression. “

Like Mary, everyone who spoke about Al Jazeera did so on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding LGBTQ issues.

These accounts now carry the tag “unnamed official account”, with a single message appearing below: “all content has been censored for the account’s violation of” official account information service management regulations on the Internet. “. mainly on gender issues and LGBTQ rights, have disappeared.

As in previous repressions in China, any effort to attempt to document the movement was also quickly stifled. Some accounts were suspended simply for listing the accounts that had been deleted.

Neither the government nor Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, have given an explanation for the suspension.

Members of groups that escaped crackdown told Al Jazeera they were preparing for the worst.

An employee of a major LGBTQ group said he has started making copies of all articles published on their platform, which currently number more than 1,000. Another took to Taobao, the Chinese e-commerce platform, and paid someone to download all the articles, with topics ranging from health to political advocacy, to a number of accounts. who she says could be the next targets for officials.

Student accounts of the LGBTQ community were removed from Chinese online platforms on the night of July 7 [File: How Hwee Young/EPA]

So far, only the groups’ online presence has been stifled, but many groups fear authorities are preparing for a broader crackdown on campus events and activities by LGBTQ groups. People like Mary say they work hard to make sure “other activities go as planned.”

“It’s a dark day for us, and I’m not sure if I can do anything other than reach out to my friends and comfort them,” Kevin, a gay man from Chengdu, told Al Jazeera, after heard the news.

The online crackdown on the community has sparked an uproar on Chinese social media.

Many expressed support for the groups, even though they were concerned about the further encroachment on civil society.

“After years of working in this organization and seeing my colleagues being interrogated, censored, forced to delete articles, I will never forgive him. [country]Said a person who worked in another censored group.

Others have expressed concern about the all-encompassing state censorship machine.

“What I fear most about this place is its ability to erase something just by snapping a finger,” wrote one user on Douban, another Chinese social media platform. “The something being a person, a group of people, an organization or even an ethnic group. “

Discreet pride

The attitude of the Chinese government towards the LGBTQ community changes frequently. From time to time, the government has equated homosexuality with violence and obscenity, censored performances on television, and allowed books to refer to homosexuality as a kind of mental illness. At the same time, however, the government’s attitude towards the community is not always openly hostile, and Beijing has generally left the community alone.

Since 2009, Shanghai has been celebrating Pride Month, which normally falls in June in most countries, with film screenings and public lectures, but without the parade which is the heart of celebrations elsewhere. Last year, organizers were forced to halt the celebration due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But not everyone supports the community.

Online crackdown has targeted groups of students at universities, including prestigious Peking University [File: Roman Pilipey/EPA]

There are many who fully support the government’s crackdown. Some highly-followed people on Weibo are quite happy, if not thrilled, with the latest development. “So happy that the government is finally taking action against LGBT organizations,” wrote Ziwuxiashi, a Weibo account with over 500,000 subscribers. “The sorrow of [the supporters of the community] is our song of triumph!

China’s more conservative forces have often shown vehement hatred of homosexuality or gender nonconformity for a so-called “program to destroy traditional values,” according to some vocal opponents of the movement, including some who stand up for it. feature as scientific authors such as Vaccine and Science, an account with over five million followers.

No legal recognition of same-sex relationships or marriage remains, but as people have become more socially liberal in recent years, those who are hostile to the LGBTQ community have moved away from their “traditional values” argument.

A sample of online and offline conversations clearly shows that another view is gaining ground: the suspicion that the LGBTQ community, especially on college campuses, is the pawn of a so-called “foreign hostile force” that could disrupt Chinese society and therefore needs to be carefully regulated.

“Targeting these groups is a good thing because these students have learned so many bad things from foreign powers and become their agents,” commented a user on Weibo.

“Favorite tactic”

In recent years, the idea that feminism and LGBTQ equality are all products of Western ideology and that their mere existence in China will destroy society has been widely shared, and as Beijing warms to the idea of ‘attributing the national discontent to the interference of foreign powers, their voices are being amplified.

“To advocate for equality is to stage a color revolution, to support feminism is the infiltration of the independence movement in Hong Kong, and to be a pro-LGBT community is to receive financial support from [US President Joe] Biden, ”Wu, organizer of an LGBTQ rights group in Shanghai, told Al Jazeera, describing some of the charges against them. “Applying political marks to ordinary people, then persecuting them – that is [the government’s] preferred tactic.

Since Xi Jinping became president in 2012, political power has become even more centralized and the Communist Party more and more sensitive to groups and organizations – from religion to culture and community – that could potentially pose a threat to society. its hold.

Despite the crackdown, members of the LGBTQ community retain a sense of optimism. “Love and hope are not so easy to take away,” they said [File: How Hwee Young/EPA]

A report on the Chinese LGBTIQ movement released this month by ILGA Asia, the regional arm of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, found that “the limited visibility of LGBTIQ issues in social media and online activism is in a vulnerable state due to strict censorship by the authoritarian government.

On social media, for example, instead of being called “couples” or “boyfriends,” same-sex partners are described as “roommates” to deliberately make “homosexuality” less visible.

“This is [the government’s] implicit tactic of including homosexuality in the heteronormative narrative, thereby stripping the LGBT group of its political voice, ”wrote one WeChat user.

What lies ahead for the group’s struggle for civil liberties in one of the world’s most tightly controlled countries remains unclear. ILGA says that despite the “dark scenario”, “opportunities” remain, particularly in the areas of violence and discrimination against the gay community and in the defense of legal rights.

And within the largest LGBTQ community in the world, people still have a sense of optimism.

“There are a lot of things that could be taken away from us, but love and hope – they’re not that easy to take away,” said one person who works at an LGBTQ-focused NGO in Wuhan.

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