Numerous WeChat accounts focused on issues related to the LGBTQ+ community and feminism were abruptly shut down, without explanation, in China. This is the latest setback for the freedom of speech and expression for these marginalized groups. The closures occurred just before the Qixi Festival on August 22, a traditional holiday celebrating love, particularly for couples who have faced obstacles in being together. It is uncertain whether the timing of the closures was coincidental or done intentionally as a symbolic act. Some of the affected accounts include the Flying Cat Brotherhood, a group for gay men; Transtory, a community for transgender individuals; Ace, a platform for asexual people; Wandouhuang, an artists’ collective; Beijing Lala Salon, a community for lesbian women; and PFLAG, a support group for parents, families, and friends of LGBTQ+ individuals. According to Gu Ting of Radio Free Asia, the closures were reported as follows:
Veteran activist Li Tingting, also known as Li Maizi in feminist circles, stated that these accounts were previously targeted two or three years ago. She mentioned that government agencies responsible for internet management have consistently targeted accounts associated with sexual minorities, which goes against the Chinese government’s stance.
A lesbian from Shanghai, who chose not to disclose her identity for fear of consequences, shared that she was a part of Transtory and Ace.
She stated that there were likely orders from above prohibiting the presence of lesbians, gays, and transgender individuals. The issue at hand is understanding one’s own gender identity and how one perceives themselves in terms of gender.
The recent restriction of LGBTQ+ accounts, which follows a previous instance of widespread censorship in 2021, is part of a larger trend where the government is cracking down on the public expression of sexual and gender identity. In May, the well-known Beijing LGBT Center was forced to close after facing pressure from authorities and local residents. More recently, attendees at a concert by Taiwanese singer Chang Hui-mei, a vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, were prohibited from wearing rainbow symbols on their clothes. Additionally, Pride Month-themed products were removed from shelves at a Starbucks in Hebei. State media has also joined in on the anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, using strong language to denounce “effeminate boys” and referring to lesbian women as adopting a “Westernized lifestyle”.
Several WeChat bloggers have expressed their opposition to the attempt to eliminate the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. Blogger @季华乡的彩虹 stated, “It is absurd, pitiful, and ultimately futile to try and forbid the rainbow flag. The existence of sexual minorities cannot be erased. We stand behind those advocating for their right to equal treatment.” Another blogger, @肖浑, strongly criticized the banning of pride flags, saying, “It’s unthinkable that this is considered unacceptable. Is even this not allowed? Must it also be eradicated? Must these individuals be shamed and silenced? How do you expect them to live? Will you turn them into mindless beings? After crushing them, are you determined to bury them?”
“University campuses have become a source of controversy, with individuals known as “rainbow hunters” being tasked with identifying students who display pride flags or other symbols related to the LGBTQ+ community. In an article by Nicole Hong and Zixu Wang in The New York Times in June, two queer students from Tsinghua University in Beijing shared their experiences of facing restrictions and censorship by the school when trying to speak out about LGBTQ+ matters.”
Last year, two women distributed rainbow flags on campus and stood up to school administrators who approached them. As a result, the university gave them a punishment that would be recorded on their permanent records. In March, when they attempted to place flowers outside the dorm of a transgender classmate who had died by suicide, security personnel surrounded them. In May, when they took a photo with rainbow flags, a university staff member hurried over and informed them that they were not permitted to share the images online.
Last year, on May 14th, before a pride celebration in China, they placed 10 rainbow flags on a table inside a supermarket on campus. They also left a note that read, “Please take ~ #PRIDE.”
They were captured on a surveillance camera.
According to the university’s written decisions detailing their punishment, the female students claimed that school officials stormed into their dormitories that evening and accused them of promoting a “negative impact.”
LGBTQ+ activists in China often face discrimination due to the government’s belief that they are a potential tool for American influence. In a recent essay for China Change, Li Tingting shared that the police officer assigned to monitor her had warned her about the illegality of same-sex unions before her planned Zoom wedding. Despite this warning, Li still married her partner through a virtual ceremony in Utah County, which has become a popular location for Chinese LGBTQ+ couples to wed during the pandemic. According to BBC reporter Annabelle Liang, authorities have put pressure on LGBTQ+ organization leaders to shut down their groups.
A leader from a different LGBT group, who has also departed China, informed the BBC that the demands of the government have had a negative impact on those advocating for progress in society.
The activist, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated that the authorities have arrested the event planners and are interrogating their loved ones. This has caused a significant amount of stress on their mental well-being.
“Prior to the pandemic, the atmosphere for LGBT communities was positive. We had the freedom to voice our opinions and we achieved success in various legal battles,” stated the activist.
However, despite opposition, advocates and local citizens persist in advocating for their freedom of speech. According to Freedom House’s China Dissent Monitor, there were reports of nine events related to Pride Month in Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. However, four of these events were faced with repression, including police interference and disruption.