A photo of two female students holding a banner declaring that their university campus is no place for homosexuality has angered China’s LGBT community.

“Protect Chinese traditional mores, defend core socialist values, resist corrosion from decadent Western thoughts, and keep homosexuality far from the university campus,” the banner read.

The incident occurred at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China. The school is part of China’s Project 985, a policy that aims to develop higher education in the country and includes the nation’s top 39 universities.

The photo was first posted online on Sunday by Ling Bing (凌冰), a women’s basketball coach at the university, on his account on social networking site QQ Qzone. The post, captioned “It’s the wish of the public, which I always bear in my heart,” received more than 650 likes. The two students holding the banner in the photo are players on Ling’s basketball team. Ling’s feed on Qzone features many other homophobic posts.

HUST student Linlin — a pseudonym he chose to protect his privacy because he identifies as gay and hasn’t come out to his family — told Sixth Tone that he felt angry when he saw the photo. “I have never seen such specific exclusion or discrimination committed with such great fanfare,” the 22-year-old said. He added that members of Ling’s basketball team had bullied some of their lesbian teammates in the past.

“The women’s basketball team used to be a disaster area for homosexuality,” wrote one of the two girls photographed holding the banner on her own QQ Qzone account. “But after our positive education and reform, there are very few gay people left on the women’s basketball team.” Sixth Tone could not immediately reach either of the girls or coach Ling for comment.

An employee in HUST’s publicity department told Sixth Tone that the school will release an official statement soon.

“Many LGBT students experience a lot of psychological pressure because of their sexual orientation,” Huang Haojie, who works at nongovernmental organization Wuhan Companion LGBT Center, told Sixth Tone. “[The people holding the banner] have freedom of speech, but they don’t have the right to attack the gay community,” the 25-year-old said. Huang said that the incident particularly worried him because HUST is known as a “relatively friendly campus” for LGBT students.

In 2012, HUST’s then-principal stated that the school would not discriminate against LGBT students. HUST’s counseling center has sent emails to educate the student body on LGBT issues, Huang said. Last year, the school posted photos on social media of students holding a rainbow flag during their graduation ceremony.

LGBT students regularly face discrimination and bullying on Chinese campuses. A lesbian student at Sun Yat-sen University in southern China’s Guangdong province has sued the country’s education authorities several times over homophobic content in officially approved textbooks. In June 2016, another university in Guangdong withheld the diploma of a female student after she publicly displayed her love for her girlfriend.

Cui Le, a university professor who specializes in gender studies, told Sixth Tone that a school’s attitude toward LGBT issues is an important factor in determining how LGBT students feel about their own identities. He suggested that universities host more lectures, courses, and student organizations to establish a more tolerant campus environment. Cui declined to share the name of his university for fear of retaliation.

Jiaye, who asked to be identified only by her given name, told Sixth Tone that she started an LGBT organization at Yangzhou University in eastern China’s Jiangsu province. “Though the school doesn’t support us, they also don’t hinder our efforts,” she said. But the 22-year-old added that it has been difficult to increase tolerance on campus. “[Homophobic people] are irrational,” she said. “It’s hard to communicate with them.”

HUST student Linlin said that at his school, there is still plenty of room for improvement, as some of the educators still believe that homosexuality is a disease. “They have even mentioned electroshock therapy,” he said.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published on Sixth Tone here. Sixth Tone covers trending topics, in-depth features, and illuminating commentary from the perspectives of those most intimately involved in the issues affecting China today. It belongs to the state-funded Shanghai United Media Group.

Editor: Olivia Yang