Workshop transmits disturbing message

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 December, 2004, 12:00am

Workshops and forums are often used in Hong Kong to debate important issues in the hope of better understanding them. They are a popular and generally constructive use of our freedom of speech.

But the workshop taking place today on the subject of sexual orientation is unusual - and it raises serious concerns.

The organisers of the function include Christian groups that support traditional family values. The focus of the forum is on helping gay people to 'restore' their 'sexual wholeness' - in other words, to become heterosexuals.

Participants are expected to include social workers, teachers, parents and members of the clergy. They will listen to people who have switched their sexual preferences from gay to heterosexual talking about their experiences. There will also be discussion sessions.

The organisers have been careful to stress they are not intending to be judgmental - they are not expressly stating that being gay is bad. But the implications are obvious.

Among the sessions planned for today are those on 'overcoming sexual addiction', 'child sexual abuse' and 'gender identity confusion'. The suggestion is that people can choose whether or not they wish to be gay - and that they can be 'helped' to opt for a heterosexual lifestyle.

This conveniently overlooks the fact that gays do not choose their sexual orientation any more than heterosexuals do. More worryingly, the focus of the workshop appears to imply that there is something wrong with being gay. And that is not a good message to convey to the community.

One of the organisers is the Society for Truth and Light. In the past, the society has distributed circulars in schools linking homosexuals with the spread of the HIV virus, and asserting that being gay is a treatable mental illness. Its members are entitled to their opinions. But ignorance of this kind will only fuel discrimination and make it more difficult for gay people in our community to come to terms with their sexual orientation.

Thankfully, there have been recent signs that Hong Kong is moving in the direction of greater tolerance towards the gay community. That is to be encouraged. A survey carried out in 2002 showed 80 per cent of respondents supporting equal rights for homosexuals. In the same year, a proposal to attract gay tourists won a Tourism Commission award. This year, Hong Kong staged its first gay parade. The government has also promised to hold a forum to hear the views of the gay community. And there have even been suggestions that a law against discrimination could finally be on the way.

The trend is towards tolerance, understanding and greater awareness. This is the message which those who deal with young people should be striving to get across.