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WeChat terminates LGBT+ accounts of Chinese college students in overnight crackdown

A participant takes part in the Pink Party, an event of the annual week-long LGBT festival Shanghai Pride, in Shanghai, China June 15, 2019. Aly Song / Reuters

In a crushing blow to LGBT+ communities in China, WeChat has, for unspecified reasons, permanently banned nearly all public accounts created and run by LGBT+ groups at Chinese colleges. 

According to a now-deleted post by a Weibo user, who frequently shares information and news about LGBT+ issues, complaints about the removals started to roll in on the evening of Monday, when followers of the affected WeChat accounts discovered that they had been shut down. 

WeChat is Tencent’s messaging, social, and payment app, which has become essential to communication and daily life in China.

The LGBT+ groups found that their content had been permanently deleted, and the accounts’ main pages replaced with a notice saying that after receiving “relevant reports from users,” WeChat decided to terminate them because they “had violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet.” But beyond the brief note, the platform has yet to offer any further explanation. 

While there has been no official word on the exact scope of the crackdown, the Weibo user wrote that the purge appeared to have affected most public accounts of campus organizations serving LGBT+ students in Chinese colleges, including top institutions like Tsinghua University and Peking University. 

In comments to the post, which provided updates on casualties of the removal, some Weibo users pointed out that some of the deleted accounts had been inactive for years, which means that the termination was unlikely to have been caused by recent violations of content rules. Rather, they speculated that the removal was part of a government-backed campaign to stifle LGBT+ voices and activities on Chinese college campuses. This is despite the fact that most of the affected student groups had never received recognition from their schools.

Speculation about an official campaign was further fueled by a photo of a government order that has been making the rounds on Chinese social media. In the unverified document, which is dated May 19, the Education Ministry of Jiangsu Province ordered Hohai University to conduct a “comprehensive inspection” of feminist and LGBT+ student organizations on its campus, which it said should include reviews of their members and presences on social media.

The large-scale termination of accounts has been met with outrage from LGBT+ individuals and others on the Chinese internet. “What saddens me the most is that we have no idea how to revolt and who we should react against,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), while another one commented (in Chinese), “What a giant step backward for my country. I’m so disappointed.”

WeChat’s move against LGBT+ communities comes amid increasingly strident official discrimination and widespread homophobia in Chinese society. Earlier this year, a court in China’s eastern Jiangsu Province ruled in a landmark case that a university textbook’s description of homosexuality as “a psychological disorder” was not a factual error but merely an “academic view.” In June, which is celebrated internationally as Pride Month, Shanghai Pride, China’s longest-running and only major annual celebration of sexual minorities, was canceled following its abrupt announcement of taking an indefinite hiatus due to “safety concerns” last year.