Chasing rainbows: What will be in store for Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ Community?

Though Hong Kong has completed its tenth Pride Parade, the path remains an uphill road – is the city still “after the same rainbows’ end”?

People striding down the streets in solidarity is a common sight in Hong Kong, often half-jokingly referred to as the City of Protests. However, the banners raised in this parade aren’t pitch black, but rather, in all seven colours of the rainbow – after all, this is Hong Kong’s Pride Parade, now in its tenth year running in the city.

“My presence as an LGBTQ+ has always been online or alone, so going to Pride has really been eye-opening,” said 17-year old Pauline. “Everyone is so accepting and unafraid to be who they are.”

Pauline, a local secondary school student who identifies as being genderfluid and pansexual, joined the parade. With twin rainbows painted dauntlessly on her cheeks, she marches with conviction.

“My friends and I said that nothing could stop us from going, not even a tornado,” she laughed.

The parade itself is a testimony to how local attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community have evolved throughout the years. The discriminative attitude towards homosexuals could date back to decades ago, and it culminated in 1991 when a young police officer due for arrest for homosexuality was driven to suicide. The following decades, however, have remained fraught with hurdles, despite a few legal cases marking important milestones.

 

Struggling with justice throughout the years

The city’s path from rejection to tentative acceptance has been rocky, to say the least, with certain legal cases marking important milestones.

While same-sex couples cannot enter into marriage or civil union in Hong Kong, the city’s Domestic and Cohabitation Relationship and Violence Ordinance extended its protection to couples in unmarried cohabiting relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, in 2009.

In 2013, local courts decided that transgender people could be given the right to marry as their identified gender rather than their biological sex at birth, in the landmark case W v Registrar of Marriages.

Moving onto 2017, the city’s Court of Final Appeal decided that same-sex couples could be granted dependant visas after a lengthy legal battle between a lesbian British expat and the Immigration Department of Hong Kong.

Just this January, the Hong Kong High Court agreed to hear two challenges on the city’s refusal to recognise same-sex marriage.

 

Social acceptance?

Nowadays, it seems that the city’s views lean towards burgeoning acceptance. In a study conducted by the University of Hong Kong in 2018, 50.4% of the respondents now support same-sex marriage, a drastic rise from 38% in 2013.

But while the legal constraints upon the LGBTQ+ community have been loosening from a bird’s eye view, certain chasms still remain hopelessly insurmountable from the standpoint of individuals.

On the topic of same-sex marriage — a notion still unbreachably taboo in the city — Felix Lo, a 23-year-old gay male, lamented, “Gay people are not entitled to the vast array of benefits marriage provides. There’s no protection for their sharing of personal heritage.”

“Marriage isn’t all about recognising the so-called ‘family values’ of the heterosexual matrix, but has social and material consequences such as taxation, inheritance, and medical decision-making.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, there remain conservative groups in Hong Kong that are steadfastly against the progression of LGBTQ+ rights in Hong Kong.

For one, the Society for Truth and Light is vocally against same-sex marriage in the city.

A spokesperson said, “People who are pro-same-sex marriage only care about people’s freedom to love. However, they tend to neglect every child’s right to bond with both a father and a mother. The children are the most disadvantaged.”

“If your lifestyle becomes a political statement, then we have a problem with that,” he continues. “While your sexuality cannot be changed, your personal decisions can be separated from it.

Another local community called The Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage states simply, “We are against same-sex marriage as it ought to be a sacred union between a man and a woman.”

In a blatant move directly targeting childhood education, last year, the anti-gay rights Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group has even successfully pressured the government to move away 10 children’s books about homosexuality and transgendered people to the closed stacks section of the Hong Kong Public Libraries.

These groups — many with a religious agenda — form the bulk of the resistance against same-sex marriage, and by extension, LGBTQ+ rights. These conservative views, often reflected in Government Consultative Committees regarding legislation relevant to the LGBTQ+ community, dissuade the authorities from giving the green light.

Despite statistics reflecting increased societal acceptance, homophobic views as displayed by the organisations above still linger prominently, especially in the realm of employment. In a study by Holning Lau and Rebecca L. Stotzer in 2011, 29% of the employees interviewed had experienced some form of prejudice for their sexual orientation.

More recently, according to the 2014 Tongzhi (homosexuals) and Transgender Equality Report, nearly half of the transgender individuals interviewed reported discrimination at work. For example, a transgender woman’s work appraisal was downgraded, merely because she elected to wear feminine clothing to work.

To make matters worse, the city notably lacks sexual orientation anti-discrimination bills. While Equal Opportunities Bills outlawing discrimination based on sexuality have been proposed since 1996, they have all been smothered by the Government under the reasoning that they would raise controversy and fail to reflect social values.

 

Future for Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ community?

The question remains: as the city moves forward, what will be in store for Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ community?

Despite the ever-present hurdles, human rights lawyer Mr Micheal Vidler, who specialises in LGTBQ+ rights cases, remains optimistic about the future.

“While certain sectors against the LGBTQ+ community have been very vocal, they just represent a minority,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an all-pervasive anti-LGBTQ+ attitude in Hong Kong as the Government claims. We need to dig our heels in and fight on.”

Meanwhile, Pauline aspires for more understanding and awareness.

“I hope that Hong Kong could be more educated towards this topic. We are an international city — this is something we should not be naive about,” she said. “At the end, perhaps policies such as legalising same-sex marriage are our ultimate goal. But for now, I just wish that we could be recognized.”

Perhaps the yearly Pride Parades herald an aubade in the city’s fight for LGBTQ+ recognition. When prompted about the march, Pauline adds softly: “It’s a long walk, sure, but I never want it to end.”

 

Feature image credits to Pauline

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