China’s leading lesbian app Rela (热拉) was shut down last week following a viral incident at Shanghai’s marriage market in People’s Park in which a group of mothers of LGBT children were kicked out by police while trying to raise awareness for gay rights.
Last week, the Shanghai-based app’s users were shocked to find that Rela’s official Weibo account had been deleted, along with its website. The app is no longer available on the Apple or Android app stores where it counted over 5 million registered users. Existing users are no longer able to log into their accounts.
After discovering this fact, users took to Weibo to protest the app’s abrupt removal. While it is not certain what led to the app’s deletion, many have pointed to Rela’s participation in a recent awareness event gone awry at Shanghai’s popular “marriage market” in People’s Park.
To mark “5/20” (Lover’s Day in China), a group of mothers of LGBT children gatecrashed the weekly event where elderly parents search for a suitable partner for their still unwed sons and daughters. Rela was one of the groups that helped to organize the expedition, which ended abruptly when the moms were kicked out of the park by security for failing to register their “advertising event” after other parents raised a ruckus.
Formerly called “The L,” the app was founded in 2012 in Shanghai as a way to help gay women in China connect with one another and stay connected to the larger LGBT community. In 2015, Tech in Asia described it as more than just an social media app, but also as a “portal for movies, literature, and other resources, ranging from event information for lectures on LGBTQ topics to contact details for overseas marriage services.”
At the same time that Rela was being shut down in the mainland last week, Taiwan’s top constitutional court was ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, putting Taiwan on the path to becoming the first in Asia to achieve marriage equality, a troubling comparison that some gay rights supporters couldn’t help but make on Weibo.
Rela is not the first app catering to China’s LGBT community to be shut down without warning. Back in April, Zank, one of two leading gay apps in China, was also deleted after being in operation for only four years. It is not clear what triggered the app’s removal, but Zank was at least less unfortunate than Rela in that they still had their Weibo account and were able to post this announcement, informing their users about what had occurred.
Meanwhile, Rela’s shut down also comes just as Beijing Kunlun Tech, a Chinese gaming company, has decided to buy up all of Grindr, the world’s most popular gay dating app, in a move aimed at turning Beijing Kunlun into a global company.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Rela’s Wechat official account had been removed.
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