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China's Weibo Backs Down on Promise to Censor Gay Content Amid Backlash


LGBT rights advocates responded in droves with the "I am gay" hashtag when the Twitter-like platform Weibo said it would ban pornographic, violent, and homosexual imagery.

The Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo, which announced Friday that it would censor "images, videos, text, and cartoons that were related to pornography, violence, or homosexuality," has reversed its decision amid an outline outcry that sparked the hashtag "I am gay," according to the BBC.

"This is to further ensure a clear and harmonious society and environment," a statement on Weibo's official administrator's account read when it made the announcement to remove LGBT content.

Between Friday afternoon -- when the announcement of a three-month "cleanup" of content came down -- and Saturday afternoon, more than 170,000 people had responded online with the "I am gay" hashtag.

"I am gay and I'm proud, even if I get taken down there are tens of millions like me!" wrote a user who went by the handle rou wan xiong xiong xiong xiong.

"My son and I love our country ... we are proud to be Chinese!" LGBT rights activist Pu Chunmei wrote in a viral post accompanied by a picture of her with her son. "But today I saw the announcement by Sina Weibo ... as a source of news, it is discriminating and attacking minorities, and this is violence!"

The head of Beijing's LGBT Center, Xiao Tie, spoke out Sunday about Weibo's pulling gay content off of its site.

"The problem with the policy is that it equates LGBT content with porn," Xiao said, according to Reuters. "But the bigger problem is the culture of strict censorship," she added. "Social media used to be an open space, but in the last year things have started to change."

Following the online outcry from LGBT advocates outraged that Weibo lumped gay content in with pornography and violence, and faced with threats that people would begin dumping Sina Weibo stock, the company backtracked on its statement and said that the "cleanup" will "no longer apply to homosexual content."

"We thank everyone for their discussion and suggestions," Weibo officials said, according to the BBC.

The decision on Weibo's part to initiate the "cleanup" is seen as part of a larger move under President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to stifle discussion despite China's having legalized homosexuality in 1997, reports Newsweek.

"There can be no homosexuality under socialism?" a Weibo user wrote, according to Agence France-Presse. "It is unbelievable that China progresses economically and militarily but returns to the feudal era in terms of ideas."

Last month, a Beijing film festival pulled the Oscar-nominated gay-themed film Call Me by Your Name from its calendar without an explanation.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist