Words By: Abby Allen
Header Art By: Human Rights Watch
“Happily ever after”.
Three words we all grew up reading, hearing, and watching. But who were we looking at? Did they look like us? For the LGBTQ+ community, this question is answered with a resounding no. Media censorship has always been a site of controversy within any society, but when it comes to LGBTQ+ content, the odds seem to be forever stacked against this community in particular.
Homosexuality is legal in China, but same-sex marriage is still not recognised and the explicit control of LGBTQ+ content at a national level is certainly not a rare occurrence. The removal of gay content is one frequently exercised by the state-controlled media. As recent as 2015, the China Television Drama Production Industry Association published regulations claiming: “No television drama shall show abnormal sexual relationships and behaviors”, naming same-sex relationships as one of them.
With YouTube and Grindr blocked, online video platforms that do exist miss the mark for inclusivity. Sites like Mango TV have often come under fire for removing references to homosexuality and censoring rainbow flags – a universally acknowledged sign of LGBTQ+ pride. In 2019, several clips of Bohemian Rhapsody – the Freddie Mercury biopic celebrating his sexuality as a gay man – were stripped from the tape. Dividing opinions, some critics complained about the visual guessing game while others half-heartedly celebrated the fact the film was released at all.
In a country conflicted with decades of traditional values, Chinese censorship has left the LGBTQ+ community feeling ostracized by their own country and culture. In a 2016 study by the United Nations Development Programme, “no more than 15%” of Chinese LGBTQ+ members revealed their sexual or gender identity to their family. In the same report, discrimination against these members was registered most commonly within the family, followed by schools and workplaces.
Censorship in Turkey has equally affected the LGBTQ+ community. Last summer, Ece Yorenc’s upcoming Netflix show If Only was pulled from production when authorities refused to permit a male homosexual character. As reported by the Financial Times, “If Only tells the story of Reyhan, an unhappily married mother of twins, who is suddenly transported back 30 years to the night her husband proposed”. Continuing this movement away from LGBTQ+ equality, a series of gay-rights protests broke out against President Erdoğan last month, after the president claimed that Turkey’s future belonged to people remaining in the “glorious past”.
Despite producing hit shows like Sex Education, Gentleman Jack and It’s a Sin, it might be too premature to assume that countries like the UK aren’t also haunted by a censored past. This year marks 33 years since the introduction of Section 28: A Local Government Act introduced by Margaret Thatcher that banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools and published material. This act, positioned alongside the HIV and AIDS epidemic, fuelled the fire of LGBTQ+ taboo, and proved the need for greater awareness even in the less traditional areas of the world.
Although Section 28 was repealed in November 2000, the need for LGBTQ+ equality in the UK has never stood more prominently than it does today. On the 8th of March 2021, MPs gathered for a debate in the House of Commons after the petition to make LGBTQ+ conversion therapy illegal gathered 256,392 signatures. The official Ban Conversion Therapy website urges: “Write to your MP to #BanConversionTherapy now! Only a legislative ban and publicly funded specialist support services for current victims and survivors will protect LGBTQIA+ people from this abusive practice. Your action can make the difference.”
Despite repeated medical warnings of these dangerous therapies, omitting this practice in the eyes of UK law speaks for the remaining work left for LGBTQ+ equality even now. Only when this continued censorship is stripped worldwide can all sexualities finally live their happily ever after.