Facebook project gives gays a hand in finding a smile and welcoming community

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 July, 2010, 12:00am

An online project to provide moral support for the gay community raised a few eyebrows when it was launched recently by the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association, but it has received an encouraging response beyond the organisers' expectations.

Last month, in a move inspired by a similar project organised by mainland gay activists, the group began to gather on a website photographs of smiling heterosexuals and their messages of support and acceptance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, or LGBT, community.

In six weeks the Facebook project, called Smiles for Gay, has collected about 1,200 photographs, far exceeding the target of 500 a month.

The charitable association, a non-governmental organisation set up in 1936, is one of the most influential and orthodox social services in Hong Kong. So when it announced it 'believes everybody is born equal and entitled to the same respect, yet social pressure brings about much difficulty and loneliness to the gay community', it expected some would scowl at the project, instead of giving a friendly smile.

'But it surprised us when some teachers in the city began to quietly politicise the matter and attacked us in groups,' said Chau Chun-yam, one of three social workers leading the project. 'We don't blame them because it takes time for people to open their hearts.'

Chau, who is gay, once thought such a project would be impossible in the city and was pleased at the strong favourable response, which 'gives gays the courage to face their own selves, their lives and society'.

He was particularly pleased that the success of the Hong Kong and mainland projects had inspired social services in Singapore and Taiwan to follow suit with similar projects.

He said that no matter how many such campaigns were run, many of the city's homosexuals would continue to fear coming out about their sexuality because of family disapproval, or the fear of it.

Having gone through the 'tortured process' of telling his parents of his sexual orientation, he hoped other parents would try to understand their children, instead of asking 'why has this happened to me'.

An entry on the website by 24-year-old Tracy Tam Pui-yee says she has many friends who are gay or lesbian and 'from you, I feel ever stronger the love and honesty you have for yourselves and society'.

'A good thing about this project is that it lets those who didn't speak up take a mild initiative to show their support,' she said.

NGO worker Eric Chan Yuen-wang and research assistant Benjamin Sin Man-yin, both 24 and gay but not out to their families, said the project confirmed they were 'not alone in the long journey of fighting for society's acceptance'.

Sin realised he was gay aged 15 when he first watched pornography. 'I realised when my friends were excited by the women, I was more interested in the other person. Since then I have been trying to let my parents know. But it's difficult because I don't know how they will react.'

The pair said they hoped their parents would read this article and understand them a little better.