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China's Weibo, the popular Twitter-like microblog site, has said it will not suppress LGBT content as planned, following a public outcry.
Thousands of Weibo users protested a three-month “clean-up campaign” that would have targeted LGBT content along with other subjects deemed obscene.
Over the weekend, people used hashtags like #Iamgay and #Ihavegayfriends, and many shared selfies and personal stories.
“My son and I love our country. No matter where we go, we always proudly tell people that we are from China,” wrote a Weibo user in Shanghai who said her son was gay in widely-shared post.
“But today when I saw the first point in Weibo's announcement that they lumped in LGBTQ content with pornographic and violent content, I felt the violence of Weibo's discrimination against minority groups when it plays the role of a media outlet in a strong country like China.”
In the southwestern province of Sichuan, a radio host posted a viral video of LGBT rights activists offering free hugs on a busy street wearing rainbow-printed eye masks.
He said he hoped to share the video before it was too late.
In response to the online protests, Weibo announced on Monday that LGBT content would be exempt from censorship.
“The clean-up campaign will not target homosexual content, as it is intended to focus on cleaning up pornographic and violent content,” the site said in an official post on Monday.
It represents a rare case in which a Chinese social media company has agreed to scale back censorship of a topic in response to user protests.
The climbdown from Weibo comes amid a broad crackdown in China on online content. President Xi Jinping has tightened restrictions on online speech as well as the press, which is heavily censored.
An organization under the country's top media regulator listed content related to homosexuality along with incest, s****l assault and p*********y as targets for online censorship in a statement last June. But a Beijing court agreed this year to hear a case challenging the basis for the rules.
China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, but the culture is still heavily conservative. LGBT activists in the country have still seen occasional success in campaigning for greater rights and acceptance.