The hashtag #IAmGay trended on Chinese social network Sina Weibo after censors launched a crackdown on "illegal" content including media supposedly "related to" homosexuality, Sky News reported on Saturday.
According to Sky, the wave of censorship was part of a three-month plan to "create a bright and harmonious community environment" in accordance with a draconian cybersecurity law passed last year, with Weibo officials saying they would also delete violent or pornographic content. Approximately 170,000 people used the hashtag "I am gay" in response, and a company post announcing the move attracted 24,000 commenters:
One commenter said that Weibo's actions were "simply discriminatory", adding: "Many mangas removed were not pornographic".
Another wrote: "I am gay and I'm proud, even if I get taken down there are tens of millions like me."
Another commented: "There can be no homosexuality under socialism?
"It is unbelievable that China progresses economically and militarily but returns to the feudal era in terms of ideas."
A large number of the posts were subsequently removed.
Homosexuality has not been criminalised in China since 1997, yet as the Economist explains, Chinese officials are far from amenable to assertions of rights by any societal group and even went so far as to ban "the depiction of homosexuals on television — not that there were many in the first place." In mainland China, inhumane and scientifically debunked tactics like "forced confinement, medication and even electric shock therapy" are still sometimes used in attempts to "convert" LGBTQ people to heterosexuality, per the Washington Post, and this practice is legal. There are similarly no laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. In recent years the attitude from authorities has increasingly clashed with the much of the Chinese public, especially youth, who are becoming more tolerant of same-sex relationships.
According to Reuters, Weibo said on Saturday it had "56,243 pieces of content, shut 108 user accounts and removed 62 topics considered to have violated its standards."
Most Western social networks including Facebook and Twitter are banned for Chinese citizens, though many people simply find ways around blocking software such as VPNs. Though censors have attempted to clamp down on access to VPNs, other alternatives like proxy client Shadowsocks are harder for authorities to target.