Chengdu, China – A week ago, China’s popular social media platform WeChat permanently suspended the official accounts of more than a dozen university LGBTQ groups without warning, sparking a new round of debate about the country’s already threatened communities.
The suspension has largely affected groups that are almost entirely run by students, including famous academic institutions such as Tsinghua University and Peking University. According to their brief introduction, the mission of these groups is to “promote gender equality and the rights of sexual minorities.”
Several students operating LGBTQ group accounts told Al Jazeera that they had not received any warning from the relevant authorities about possible suspension of school.
Mary, a student who participated in one of the suspended groups, said that although the campus had been “chatting” over the “groups advocating the rights of sexual minorities” a few months ago, nothing happened.
“It’s surprising, but at the same time, there are not so many,” Mary said, she did not want to use her real name for security reasons. “We know that the LGBT rights movement has encountered obstacles in China one after another, but we believe that, at least as a university affiliate, we can avoid any public repression.”
Like Mary, due to the sensitivity surrounding LGBTQ issues, everyone else who speaks of Al Jazeera does this under the condition of anonymity.
These accounts now have the label “Unnamed Official Account”, and a message appears below-“All content has been censored because this account violates the “Internet Official Account Information Service Management Regulations”.” All articles previously published on the platform , Mainly about gender issues and LGBTQ rights, has disappeared.
As with previous crackdowns in China, any attempts to document this move were quickly stifled. Some accounts are suspended just to compile a list of accounts that have been deleted.
Neither the government nor WeChat’s parent company Tencent offered an explanation for the suspension.
People from groups that escaped the suppression told Al Jazeera that they are preparing for the worst.
A staff member of a well-known LGBTQ group stated that he has started copying all the articles published on their platform, and that there are currently more than 1,000 articles. Another person spent money on China’s e-commerce platform Taobao to ask people to download all the articles on some accounts that she feared might be the next targets of officials, on topics ranging from health to political rights advocacy.
Currently, only the online presence of these groups has been stifled, but many groups worry that the authorities may be preparing to suppress LGBTQ groups’ activities and activities on campus more widely. People like Mary said they are working hard to ensure that “other activities go on schedule.”
“This is a dark day for us. I don’t know what else I can do besides reaching out to my friends and comforting them,” Kevin, a gay man in Chengdu, told Al Jazeera after hearing the news. .
The online suppression of the community has caused strong protests on Chinese social media.
Many people expressed support for these groups, even though they feared further encroachment on civil society.
“Working in this organization for many years, seeing colleagues being questioned, reviewed, and forced to delete articles, I will never forgive this [country],” said a person who worked in another group that became a victim of censorship.
Others expressed their concerns about the all-encompassing national censorship machine.
Another user on the Chinese social media platform Douban wrote: “I am most afraid of this place. It can wipe out something with a single click.” “Something is a person, a group of people, an organization, or even A nation.”
The Chinese government’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community often changes. From time to time, the government equates homosexuality with violence and obscenity, censors descriptions on TV, and allows books to call homosexuality a mental illness. At the same time, however, the government’s attitude towards the community is not always openly hostile, and Beijing has basically turned a deaf ear to the community.
Since 2009, Shanghai has been celebrating Pride Month (usually held in June in most countries), with film screenings and public speeches, but no parade at the core of celebrations elsewhere. Last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the organizers were forced to stop the celebration.
But not everyone supports the community.
Many people fully support the government’s crackdown. Some people who have a large number of fans on Weibo are very satisfied with the latest development, even ecstatic. “I am glad that the government has finally taken some action against LGBT organizations,” wrote Ziwuxiashi, a Weibo account with more than 500,000 followers. “Sadness comes from [the supporters of the community] It is our victory song! “
According to some opponents of the movement, the more conservative forces in China often show strong hatred of homosexuality or gender irregularities because of the so-called “agenda that undermines traditional values”, including some self-proclaimed scientific writers such as Vaccine and Science, an account with more than 5 million fans.
There is still no legal recognition of same-sex relationships or marriage, but as people have become more free in society in recent years, those who are hostile to the LGBTQ community have moved away from their “traditional values” arguments.
Samples of online and offline conversations clearly show that another view is gaining more and more attention: the suspicion that the LGBTQ community, especially on university campuses, is a pawn of the so-called “foreign hostile forces” that may disrupt Chinese society, so careful attention is needed. Supervision.
“Targeting these groups is a good move because these students have learned a lot of bad things from foreign countries and become their agents,” a user commented on Weibo.
In recent years, both feminism and LGBTQ equality are the products of Western ideology. The view that merely being in China will destroy society has been widely recognized. As Beijing is keen to blame domestic dissatisfaction on the idea of foreign interference, their The sound is being amplified.
“Advocating equality means engaging in the color revolution, supporting women’s rights means the penetration of the Hong Kong independence movement, and supporting LGBT means getting financial support from Hong Kong.” [US President Joe] Biden,” Wu, an organizer of an LGBTQ rights advocacy group in Shanghai, told Al Jazeera, describing some of the accusations against them. “Put ordinary people politically and then persecute them—that’s [the government’s] Tactics. “
Since Xi Jinping became president of the country in 2012, political power has become more concentrated, and the Communist Party has become increasingly sensitive to groups and organizations (from religion to culture and community) that may pose a threat to its control.
ILGA Asia, the regional body of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, released a report this month on China’s LGBTIQ movement found that “LGBTIQ issues have limited visibility on social media and online activism , Because of the strict scrutiny of the authoritarian government.”
For example, on social media, same-sex couples are called “roommates” rather than “couples” or “boyfriends”, deliberately making “homosexual” less obvious.
“this is [the government’s] The implicit strategy of including homosexuality in heterosexual narratives eliminates the political voice of the LGBT community,” wrote a WeChat user.
In one of the most tightly controlled countries in the world, what is waiting for the organization to fight for civil liberties remains uncertain. ILGA stated that despite the “gloomy outlook” there are still “opportunities”, especially in the area of violence and discrimination against the gay community and legal rights advocacy.
In the world’s largest LGBTQ community, people remain optimistic.
“There are a lot of things that can be taken away from us, but love and hope-they are not so easy to take away,” said a person who works for a non-governmental organization dedicated to LGBTQ in Wuhan.