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LGBTQ in China lament “dark day” after raid on social media | Censorship news

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

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

Several students who keep the LGBTQ group’s accounts told Al Jazeera that they had not previously received any warnings about a possible ban from the relevant authorities.

Mary, a student involved in one of the suspended groups, says there was “talk” on campus a few months earlier about regulating “groups advocating for the rights of sexual minorities” but nothing happened be.

“It was surprising, but not so much at the same time,” said Mary, who preferred not to give her real name for security reasons. “We knew that the LGBT right-wing movement in China would encounter obstacles one by one, but we thought that at least by being a university we could be exempt from any open raid.”

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

These accounts now carry the tag “unnamed official account” with a single message underneath – “All content has been censored for violating the ‘Regulations on the Administration of Official Internet Account Information Services’ by the account.” All previously published articles on the platforms , mainly on gender issues and LGBTQ rights, have disappeared.

As with previous raids in China, any attempts to document the move were soon dashed. Some accounts have been banned just to make a list of the deleted accounts.

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

People from groups that escaped the raid told Al Jazeera they were preparing for the worst.

An employee of a prominent LGBTQ group said he had started making copies of all the articles posted on their platform, which are currently more than 1,000. Another went to Taobao, China’s e-commerce platform, and paid someone to download all of the articles, covering topics from health to advocacy for political rights, on a number of accounts she feared would be the next targets of officials could be.

Student accounts for the LGBTQ community were deleted from China’s online platforms overnight on July 7th [File: How Hwee Young/EPA]

For now, only the groups’ online presence has been stifled, but many groups fear that authorities may prepare 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”.

“This is a dark day for us and I don’t know if I can do anything other than reach out to my friends and comfort them,” said Kevin, a gay man in Chengdu, Al Jazeera after hearing the news .

The crackdown on the community on the Internet caused an outcry on China’s social media.

Many expressed their support for the groups, even though they were concerned about further intrusion into civil society.

“After years of working in this organization and seeing my colleagues interrogated, censored, and forced to delete articles, I will never forgive them [country]“Said one person who worked for another group that had fallen victim to censorship.

Some others expressed concern about the all-encompassing state censorship machine.

“What I fear most about this place is its ability to wipe something out with the snap of a finger,” wrote one user on Douban, another Chinese social media platform. “The something is a person, a group of people, an organization or even an ethnic group.”

Reticent pride

The Chinese government’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community is changing frequently. From time to time the government has equated homosexuality with violence and profanity, censored TV shows and allowed books to refer to homosexuality as a form of insanity. At the same time, however, government attitudes toward the community are not always openly hostile, and Beijing has by and large left the community alone.

Since 2009, Shanghai has celebrated Pride Month, which in most countries usually falls in June, with film screenings and public lectures, but without the parade, which is the focus of the celebrations elsewhere. Last year, organizers had to cancel the celebration due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But not everyone supports the community.

Groups of students at universities such as the prestigious Peking University were singled out in the online penetration campaign [File: Roman Pilipey/EPA]

There are many who wholeheartedly support the government’s action. Some folks with a large following on Weibo are pretty happy, if not excited, with the latest development. “I’m so glad that the government is finally taking action against LGBT organizations,” wrote Ziwuxiashi, a Weibo account with more than 500,000 followers. “The grief of [the supporters of the community] is our triumph song! “

China’s more conservative forces have often shown vehement hatred of homosexuality or gender nonconformity for an alleged “agenda to destroy traditional values,” according to some vocal opponents of the movement, including some who branded themselves science writers like Vaccine and Science, and Account with more than five million followers.

There is still no legal recognition of same-sex relationships or marriages, but as people have become more socially liberal in recent years, those who are hostile to the LGBTQ community have turned their backs on their “traditional values” argument.

A selection of conversations conducted online and offline makes it clear that another point of view is gaining in importance: the suspicion that the LGBTQ community, especially at universities, is the pawn of a so-called “alien enemy force” that is the could disrupt Chinese society and must therefore be carefully regulated.

“Reaching these audiences is a good move because these students have learned so many bad things from foreign powers and are becoming their agents,” commented a user on Weibo.

“Go-to Tactics”

In recent years the idea has become widespread that feminism and LGBTQ equality are all products of Western ideology and their very existence in China will destroy society, and as Beijing warmed up to the idea of ​​attributing internal discontent to interference by foreign powers, have their voices are amplified.

“Standing up for equality means staging a color revolution, supporting feminism is undermining the Hong Kong independence movement, and being a pro-LGBT community means getting financial support from [US President Joe] Biden, ”Wu, an LGBTQ rights advocate organizer in Shanghai, told Al Jazeera, describing some of the allegations made against her. “To put political signs on ordinary people and then persecute them – that is [the government’s] Tactic go. “

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

Despite the crackdown, people in the LGBTQ community remain optimistic. “Love and hope are not so easy to take,” they said [File: How Hwee Young/EPA]

A report on China’s LGBTIQ movement released this month by ILGA Asia, the regional branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, found that “the limited visibility of LGBTIQ issues on social media and Online activism due to strict censorship by the authoritarian government. “

In social media, for example, same-sex partners are referred to as “roommates” instead of “couples” or “friends” in order to deliberately make the “gays” less visible.

“That is [the government’s] implicit tactic to include homosexuality in the heteronormative narrative and thus free the LGBT group from their political voice, ”wrote a WeChat user.

What awaits the group’s struggle for civil liberties in one of the most strictly controlled countries in the world remains uncertain. ILGA says that despite the “dire scenario” there are still “opportunities”, particularly in the areas of violence and discrimination against the gay community and in advocating for legal rights.

And within the world’s largest LGBTQ community, people remain optimistic.

“There are many things that can be taken from us, but love and hope – they are not that easy to take away,” said one person who works for an LGBTQ-oriented NGO in Wuhan.

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