Hong Kong Faces
While coming out as gay to his family and friends was relatively easy for 37-year-old Anthony Man Ho-fung, his concern for the difficulties many other gays and lesbians face led him to establish a counselling service with a group of friends
Same-sex love no longer seems a taboo in modern society, but it's still not easy for some parents to accept that their children are gay. Over the past decade, gay activist Anthony Man Ho-fung has lent an ear to countless worried families of gays and lesbians in an attempt to help them.
'When I planned to set up a hotline for families of homosexuals 10 years ago, some gay friends of mine found it impractical and said no such families would come out,' he recalls. 'But I think I've done the right thing ever since I got the first call.
'The call was from a woman who found out her husband was gay after getting married and having children. She was very calm when talking to me ... But she said it would have been great if our hotline had been set up three years earlier, at the time she noticed the problem.'
Every Friday night, Mr Man and three of his friends - one gay and two straight - from their group Over the Rainbow rotate to take calls weekly. 'We want to fill in the social service gap,' he says. 'No one is doing this except us ... Social workers generally can't help much as they are unfamiliar with gay culture.' The hotline has also received calls from overseas Chinese who desperately need counselling from people of the same culture, he says.
'Although we can only provide peer counselling, not professional counselling, sometimes they just want to talk to a gay, other than their son, to understand him better.'
Now the group often gets referrals from social workers as well, he says.
But things turned sour around 2001 when he was made redundant by his company and became depressed. 'I collapsed and found it hard to accept. It seemed to me that our society has changed all of a sudden. Academic qualifications have weighed much more heavily [with bosses] than before,' says Mr Man, who passed only Chinese and English language in his repeated attempts at the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in 1987 and 1988.
Despite the setback, he never stopped counselling needy families and devoted himself to the meaningful work. 'I gained recognition there ... I proved myself useful,' says the 37-year-old. 'I've found myself.'
After recovering from depression, he started to study a distance-learning degree in sociology at Jinan University in Guangzhou about four years ago to prove his ability, and graduates this year. And life is getting back on the right track with a new job - a customer service officer at an insurance company.
Unlike many sexual minorities, Mr Man says he came out to his family and friends without much difficulty. 'I told my mother that I was gay at 18. She was very calm and very open to it,' says the activist, whose father left the family when he was eight years old. 'I also came out to one or two of my close friends at secondary school and they accepted me as well.'
Mr Man says he has had a very stable relationship with his partner of three years.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in many places around the world including California, Canada and Spain, but not in Hong Kong. Asked if he wants to tie the knot in Hong Kong some day, he pauses and says: 'The problem is not whether I want to get married. I might not get married even if it were made legal [in Hong Kong]. But it is unreasonable that a gay is deprived of the right to do so if he wants.'
Mr Man has published two Chinese books of gay love stories, in 1996 and 1997. 'I love expressing myself,' he says. '[Writing books] is a chance for me to raise my voice in the lesbian and gay community ... But I am not talented in writing.
'Gay teens nowadays find it much easier to come out. They may think they no longer need to fight for anything. But basically, gays and straights are treated differently legally.'
He aims to become a full-time counsellor for families of gays, so 'I can do better follow-up work and give more face-to-face counselling. Now I can hardly afford the time to do so'.