Gay Vloggers Push Back Against Chinese Censorship, and Succeed

Bilibili, China’s YouTube, has reversed a decision to ban a gay couple from using the term “husband and husband” in video titles.
February 19, 2021, 1:32pm
Gay vlogger give hope to Bilibili gay community
The gay couple want to be called ‘husband and husband.’ Photo courtesy of Shawn Shang and Oscar Cai

A gay couple is pushing back against the tightening censorship of LGBT content on the Chinese internet, after the video-sharing site Bilibili blocked their Valentine’s Day video blog for featuring the term “husband and husband” in the title. 

Same-sex marriage is illegal in China. The couple, Shawn Shang and Oscar Cai, married on the island of Saipan in 2017 and now live in Canada, where they upload vlogs about their married life to Bilibili, a video site popular with Chinese youth. 

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The couple post videos to the site to encourage the Chinese gay community, which is struggling to get recognition from the government and the wider society, 31-year-old Shang told VICE World News.

Their “husband and husband” series covers snippets of their everyday life in Winnipeg, from cooking to getting haircuts to decorating their house together. 

But when Shang was trying to upload a Valentine’s Day video on Sunday, Bilibili told him that the phrase “husband and husband” was no longer allowed in the title.

“Bilibili used to be the most LGBT-friendly video community, but now the space is shrinking,” Shang wrote in a post on microblogging site Weibo, which was liked more than 50,000 times. “Our demand is simple: give back the word ‘husband and husband’ we have always been using.”

Three days later, Shang got a call from a Bilibili employee, who told him that “husband and husband” was permitted again. 

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The vloggers hope the videos about their married life can inspire other gay people in China. Photo courtesy of Shawn Shang and Oscar Cai​

The reversed decision was a rare win for China’s LGBT content makers who are battling the tightening internet control and the authority’s hostility toward homosexuality. 

Even as the recognition of LGBT rights have grown among China’s young generation, the authority still bans same-sex love from mainstream TV and cinema. 

Nasdaq-listed Bilibili used to be a haven for subcultures and minorities, with boys love anime being one of its popular genres. But it has also become less tolerant of LGBT content as it grows into a mainstream platform like YouTube and steps up self-censorship to keep up with Beijing’s internet control. 

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Shang said tags like “homosexuality” and “comrade” (a Chinese euphemism for gay people) often triggered censorship. Videos that show people of the same sex kissing are almost always banned although they were permitted a few years ago, according to Shang. 

Bilibili did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

Shang said despite the shrinking freedoms on LGBT speech, he wants to continue making vlogs on Chinese social media, because they provide hope for China’s gay community. 

Many of his 6,200 followers are college-age gay men who are coping with both the intense competition in society and the pressure to marry a woman.

“We want to give them a beacon,” Shang said. “It’s like letting people in the tunnel see a ray of light. ‘Husband and husband’ is a future they may eventually achieve.”

The couple’s Valentine’s Day vlog, which shows them shopping for bath bombs and Easter decorations, was published a day later. In apparent support of the couple, viewers left hundreds of comments that repeat the term “husband and husband.”

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.