Battling prejudice

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 June, 1999, 12:00am

The survey by the Federation of Youth Groups on attitudes among young people to homosexuality makes disturbing reading for anyone concerned about tolerance and equality.

That one in four of the 200 people aged between 12 and 25 interviewed believed that gays suffer from a disease or some form of madness was perhaps the most shocking finding. But it is perhaps too easy to simply criticise people holding such a view as ignorant.

It can be argued that in many Western countries gays were long ago accepted as part of mainstream society and are now frequently depicted sympathetically and as fully-rounded people in many parts of the media. Certainly in the US, gay rights organisations have formed a powerful lobby with organised political and economic muscle.

A survey in, say, New York would never show 25 per cent of people thinking that gays were mad or abnormal. But that is because people there know it is politically incorrect to hold such a view, and expressing it would expose them to ridicule; what it does not mean is that some people do not secretly believe it.

In Hong Kong political correctness does not have such a hold, so answers are, arguably, more honest. None of this makes the views of those one in four respondents valid or acceptable. But it does suggest caution before concluding that the level of prejudice here is really more extreme than in supposedly more enlightened places. particularly in the West.

What is quite apparent from the survey, however, is that most young people believe, in the main, that gays are to be tolerated so long as they keep their sexuality under wraps.

The answer to this, as with other prejudices revealed in the survey, is not to condemn it as ignorant, nor simply to brand it as unacceptable. That is the road towards political correctness, which does not enlighten, but merely establishes fashionable and superficial beliefs.

What is necessary is to tackle the problem in a wider context. And for doing just that the Home Affairs Bureau's anti-discrimination campaign, which is launching two books to tackle sex discrimination and racial prejudice, is to be praised. These two publications, aimed at schools, do not preach, but instead encourage children to empathise with the victims of stereotyping and consider its consequences.

Judging by the results of the survey on gays, a third title may well be overdue.