Gay parade a step in the right direction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 12:00am

Last night, a small but significant step was taken towards living up to the government's claim that Hong Kong is Asia's World City. It was bold, colourful and fun - our city's first gay parade.

Many members of the gay community participated in this public celebration in bustling Lan Kwai Fong. Their presence was a sign of the gay community's growing confidence. It also suggests that our community is becoming more tolerant. Both of these trends are welcome.

But there is another dimension to this development. Finally, it seems, people are beginning to wake up to the value of the so-called 'pink dollar' - the spending power of the gay community - especially tourists.

Hong Kong has been slow to catch on. Sydney's famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was first held in 1978. Thousands participate and hundreds of thousands - many visitors from overseas - turn up to watch the huge street party. Leading multinational corporations sponsor the parade in the hope of appealing to gay consumers. And it has been estimated to add as much as HK$400 million to the Australian economy each year.

In Asia, the gay parades are rather more modest. But Thailand is proud of its reputation as the region's pink capital - and activists there were horrified when Singapore voiced its intention to get in on the act. Taiwan held the Chinese world's first gay parade last year.

Hong Kong's carnival last night was organised in just three weeks. But its significance lies in the fact that it was held at all. Hong Kong's gay community has, traditionally, been reluctant to go public - fearing a backlash from the community. When an attempt was made in 1991 to hold a gay parade, no one turned up.

Since then, some progress has been made. But much work remains to be done. The government has announced plans for a forum to enable it to hear the views of the gay community. Same-sex marriages and matters relating to tax, health and education are on the agenda.

An official survey is also to be held to determine whether laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual preference would enjoy public support. A university poll in 2002 showed that up to 80 per cent of respondents supported equal rights for homosexuals. There is good reason to believe that Hong Kong's traditional, conservative views are changing.

The gay parade will, it is hoped, become a successful annual event. In some cities, the local mayor participates in order to set an example. It is perhaps too optimistic to think that Tung Chee-hwa will join in any time soon. But some form of official support would help send the right message to the community.

Last night, Hong Kong joined places as diverse as Toronto, Jerusalem, New York, and Guatemala in holding a gay parade. The event is very much in keeping with our reputation as a vibrant, tolerant, international city.