Weibo, a China-based Twitter-like website, made a policy decision to crack down on the posting of LGBTQ-content on the website. This includes rainbow flag icons and communities like #les, where lesbian content was posted on the site. The decision prompted backlash from the Chinese LGBTQ community as well as supporters across the globe.
After the #les community was banned and users noticed they were no longer able to use the rainbow flag emoji in profiles, Weibo users began to speak out. Instone News reported that one Weibo user said LGBT people in China “always hope that the country they were born in will one day be willing to accept them, instead of hiding, ignoring, avoiding and even censoring them time after time.” Prior to the shutdown of the different communities on the platform, the tag had not been frequently used; however, after Weibo started limiting the topic, hundreds of thousands of users posted their support using the hashtags #les and #IAmLes.
Weibo appeared to backtrack following the backlash on the censorship policy and resumed allowing lesbian and LGBTQ-related content to be posted on the platform.
Homosexuality is not criminalized in China, but there is not yet a right to marry, join the military, or equal protection from discrimination for gay people. State censors control media that officially enters the country and often removes homosexual content before allowing the media to be shown. For example, scenes involving queerness were cut from “Bohemian Rhapsody” before it was allowed to be shown in the country.
This wasn’t the first time that Weibo tried to limit discussions of LGBTQ topics on the site. Last year, Weibo promised to censor “images, videos, text, and cartoons that were related to pornography, violence, or homosexuality.” After users began to protest, Weibo reversed the policy on gay content. It’s not clear why the company keeps flip-flopping on LGTBQ content, but it is heartening to see how many people came together to protect the #les community on Weibo this week.