China’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group deletes social media accounts, appears to be in jeopardy

Society & Culture

Civil society organizations in China have been on the retreat for some time, and the past year has been particularly hard on LGBTQ groups. Today, one of the country’s most prominent advocates for sexual minorities shut down its online channels.

Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

LGBT Rights Advocacy China, an influential nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the legal rights of sexual minorities in the country, has deleted its entire social media presence on the Chinese internet — a move that possibly indicates a permanent closure of the group.

In an abrupt announcement (in Chinese) made today, the Guangzhou-based organization wrote on its official WeChat account that it would start “suspending all operations” for an indefinite period of time. 

“We are grateful for all the companionship and support over the years. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused,” it wrote. “There’s so much uncertainty about the future. We are looking forward to the day when we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Subsequent to the sentimental notice, LGBT Rights Advocacy China closed its Weibo and WeChat accounts for good. 

Co-founded in 2016 by Yi Yang and his boyfriend Peng Yanzi, LGBT Rights Advocacy China is a leading organization seeking to provide legal support to the country’s LGBT community. It was behind several high-profile campaigns advocating for the rights of LGBT individuals in China, including one calling for recognition of same-sex relationships in national census in 2020, and another pushing for legalizaiton of gay marriage in China’s revised Civil Code in 2019. In a court case well known among Chinese LGBTQ activists, the organization helped a university  student in Guangdong sue an academic publisher that described homosexuality as a “psychological disorder” in a university textbook.

Like other groups serving the community, LGBT Rights Advocacy China has been facing a shrinking space for their activities, and it has tried to avoid being seen as confrontational. In July, after WeChat, China’s most popular social media service, deleted more than a dozen LGBTQ accounts run by university students and nongovernment groups, the organization changed its Chinese name from “Advocates for LGBT equal rights” (tóngzhì píngděng quányì cùjìnhuì 同志平等权益促进会) to “Gay advocates online” (tóngcùzàixiàn 同促在线), hoping that a less provocative identity would keep it from trouble. 

While the group didn’t explain exactly why it went on a full social media purge, popular belief is that the organization had to dissolve due to pressure from the government. “[It] appears to be disbanding altogether,” Darius Longarino, a research scholar at the Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai Center, wrote on Twitter. “The squeeze on LGBT groups in China continues.”