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China’s Weibo Reverses Ban on LGBT Content

Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblogging platform, has reversed its ban on gay content. The decision, announced Monday, is a rare instance of a Chinese institution bowing to public pressure.

The company’s proposed three-month operation to clean up its site, user groups and user-generated comments will “no longer apply to homosexual content,” Sina said on its site. “We thank you for all your discussions and suggestions.”

At the end of last week, Sina said that it had cleaned up more than 56,000 unregulated posts, closed 108 accounts and removed other discussion topics. It explained that the action was being taken to “further make a clean and harmonious community environment” and is being done “according to laws and regulations such as the Cybersecurity Law.”

Sina said its targets included pornographic, violent or gay-themed cartoons, pictures, videos and articles, as well as such content as “slash, gay, boys love and gay fictional stories.” The notification itself was re-posted more than 20,000 times and sparked a backlash among users. Many users revived the “I am gay” web page and effectively turned it into a hashtag of protest.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997. It ceased to be categorized as a mental illness from 2001. However, whether homosexual content is illegal or not in China is currently a subject of debate.

The Beijing International Film Festival last week removed gay-themed “Call Me by Your Name” from its lineup. The prize-winning film had previously been announced as part of its selection.

Last June, China Netcasting Service Association, a non-governmental organization administered by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), banned service providers from releasing programs that “present abnormal sexual relations or behavior.” It put homosexual relations on a list that also included incest, sexual harassment and sexual violence.

In a rare move, filmmaker Fan Chunlin has been granted permission to challenge the ruling in court. Fan has questioned why SAPPRFT categorizes homosexual relations as “abnormal.”

There is an expanding crackdown in China against “decadent” and Western ideas, and an ever-greater promotion of “core socialist values.” One Beijing company that employed 30 staff who organized events, clubs and meetings for the LGBT community was recently closed down following pressure from authorities.

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