According to social media posts, the Chinese social media platform WeChat has deleted dozens of accounts belonging to LGBTQ+ groups at universities in recent days.
Screenshots of notices sent to the owners of the deleted accounts stated that they had violated laws and regulations governing online content, raising fears that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now targeting gay content and activism.
According to one of the account holders, many of the accounts were deleted around the same time on Tuesday evening.
Some of the accounts had vanished by Wednesday, while others displayed notices indicating that they had been suspended due to regulatory violations.
Others were given the moniker “Unnamed Official Account.”
ColorsWorld at Peking University, Purple at Tsinghua University, and RUC Sex and Gender Research Group at Renmin University were among the affected groups, according to an online post titled “Tonight, we are all unnamed official accounts.”
Similar groups were shut down at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Wuhan University, and Nanjing University.
Censors’ action follows the cancellation of Shanghai’s decade-old Pride festival in 2020. The organizers, ShanghaiPRIDE, provided no explanation for the decision, but local activists speculated that the group was likely under political pressure from the authorities.
The Chinese Communist Party had previously granted the organization legal permission to hold the event (CCP).
However, ShanghaiPRIDE has also been involved in ongoing civil society activities in support of China’s LGBTQ community, such as hosting seminars for LGBTQ parents.
Activists said at the time that the cancellation of Shanghai Pride would most likely affect all LGBTQ+ groups.
Following official pressure, the organizers of a planned LGBTQ+ conference in the northern city of Xian were forced to cancel the event in 2017.
Since then, government censors have carried out a number of crackdowns on LGBTQ representation in social media, books, comics, television, and film.
In 2020, education officials in Jinan, Shandong province’s provincial capital, called for the “strengthening of political and ideological education” for students in foreign-invested schools at both the primary and secondary levels.
The view of homosexuality as “corrupt behavior imported from the West [that is] inconsistent with core socialist values” was included in the guidance.
According to activists, the crackdown was motivated in part by a conservative attitude toward sexuality under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping’s indefinite rule, and in part by a fear that civil organizations would pose a threat to party rule.
In China, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, and it was removed from official psychiatric diagnostic manuals in 2001.
In recent years, an increasing number of highly educated urban Chinese have begun to come out, and while some have found acceptance among their peers, social attitudes still strongly favor heterosexual marriage and children.
It is unknown how many Chinese people identify as LGBTQ+. According to the country’s health and family planning ministry, there are between five and ten million gay men in China, but activists believe the true figure is much higher.
LGBTQ activists claim that since around 2010, there has been an increase in the number of anti-discrimination lawsuits filed by the community in China, as well as some rare but unsuccessful attempts to register same-sex marriages.