A Chinese queer media platform had its WeChat account shut down after it reported on the closure of an LGBTQ-friendly hostel in Wuhan, China. GS, short for GaySpot (乐点 Lè Diǎn), became the latest victim of the clampdown on LGBT-related content on Chinese social media. Founded in 2007, GS is known for its feature stories and longform reporting that details milestone events for the Chinese queer community. It has featured the first Chinese gay couple to sue their local government in a bid to get married, and the first employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a transgender man. In addition to posting online, GS also issues paper-based periodicals for free, and is likely the last remaining print queer publication in China.
Last week, GS wrote about how an LGBTQ-friendly hostel in Wuhan was forced to close down after enduring homophobic harassment from neighboring residents. The story gained some traction on social media. On August 19, WeChat shut down GS’s account, leaving a generic message that read: “Following relevant complaints, [we have deemed] this account to be in violation of the Online Public Accounts Information Services Management Provisions.”
The story that got GS into trouble detailed the verbal threats and abuse the hostel staff received from some residents of the neighboring community. The story has been archived at CDT Chinese, and selected paragraphs are translated below:
“I received the messages from our landlord around 7 p.m. on August 10,” says the manager of the hostel, Mr. H. The landlord told Mr. H that he and his mother had received calls from residents, scolding them in abusive terms. Fortunately, the landlord and his family do not live in this neighborhood, otherwise it is hard to say what might have happened. Mr. H joined the residents’ WeChat group at 12:59 p.m. The first thing he posted was: “That old post you dug up may have troubled some of you. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to ask me!”
The eviction was triggered by a post about the hostel by Wuhan LGBT Center in 2020. In addition to photos of and prices at the hostel, the post included the following text: “We respect the LGBT+ community and HIV carriers; we welcome LGBT+ and allies.” But Mr. H says he has operated the hostel for a year without any trouble. He finds it perplexing why a posting made more than 700 days ago was suddenly dug up by a resident and sent to the community’s chat group.
[…] “Respect HIV carriers?” “How can they enter our community?” “What if they infect the elderly, children, and other residents…” After a member in the group chat sent these words, other residents seemingly “got” the gist of the discussion. “We respect other people’s lifestyles, as long as they stay away from our neighborhood,” one resident jumped in. The first member posted a sharp reply: “Now this has become a threat to the safety of our community.”
[…] He added: “This is perverted.” “I hate it when people pretend as if they are progressive and open-minded, and respect these so-called ‘special groups.’” “Special groups should show some sense of decorum, too!” “Has our society really become that open?”
[…] According to Mr. H, the police did not take on the case after residents reported it to them. Residents obtained the contact info of the landlord from the community management company, and started threatening the landlord and his mother in abusive terms.
[…] “Hello, things have escalated now. I have received lots of abuse and complaints from the residents, many of which are hard to listen to …. Gossip is a fearful thing. In order to protect myself and my family, and for the sake of your reputation, let’s end the contract at the end of September! Please refrain from operations in the meantime …. I will list the space with a real estate agency. If someone rents it, I will return your deposit and the remaining rent, minus some regular fees.” The landlord issued his final notice to Yangyang and Momo [hostel staff members] via Mr. H. [Source]
GS is still active on Weibo, where they have nearly half a million followers. It has since started a new WeChat account but has yet to post anything on it.
In recent years, GS has been tip-toeing a fine line between influence and survival in China’s tightly controlled media landscape. Its print publication is unlicensed, a violation that could carry a multiple-year prison term. In November 2020, a popular danmei author Yuan Yimei, who goes by her pen name Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, was sentenced for selling her books without a license. The length of her sentence was not made public. Publishing gay-themed content is vulnerable to targeted enforcement. In October 2018, an author of homoerotic fiction was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a case that shocked many in China’s online literary community, and was keenly felt by staff members at GS, as Dave Yin wrote for SupChina in 2019:
[…] “Whereas before you could get away with being underground, now there were consequences,” [GS’s editor-in-chief Samuel Su] says.
[…] To survive, GS has kept its head down. For one, the team is content with its mediocre traffic. The writing style is also deliberate: Hard news is too bellicose; a soft, narrative tone is less likely to trip the censors, according to Su. The staff gives the magazine away for free to eliminate any profit, and is tight-lipped when it comes to circulation numbers (for fear of appearing influential and drawing attention from the authorities), beyond a vague claim of being in more than 60 cities across China. [Source]