Government must take the lead in ending discrimination against sexual minorities

The refusal to allow same-sex partners dependency visas is a shameful example of officially sanctioned discrimination. The policy should be reversed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2016, 1:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 2016, 1:09am

Support for the rights of sexual minorities in Hong Kong is gaining strength in the community, with the financial sector at the forefront of moves to end discrimination in the workplace. Investment banks have played a leading role by implementing inclusive policies and promoting diversity. A decision by 12 banks not to sign a petition calling on the government to allow dependency visas for same-sex partners might appear to buck the trend. But this is not the case.

Banks and other corporations are entitled to decide how best to go about supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Signing a petition is not necessarily the most effective way for them to make a difference. The not-for-profit organisation which launched the petition last year recognises this. The banks concerned have all been awarded by that organisation, Community Business, for the steps they have taken to ensure equality for sexual minorities in the workplace. Their efforts are valuable, providing a good environment for their employees while also increasing awareness of the issue.

But it should not be left to banks or other businesses to curb discrimination against members of the LGBT community. This is, ultimately, the responsibility of the government. The Immigration Department’s refusal to allow same-sex partners dependency visas is a shameful example of officially sanctioned discrimination. The policy should be reversed.

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It forces people joining their same-sex partners in Hong Kong to stay here on tourist visas, unable to work, unable to open a bank account and denied an identity card. It is demeaning and undoubtedly puts a great strain on relationships.

The Court of First Instance has held the policy to be lawful. But this does not make it right. It goes against the international trend towards recognising LGBT rights, and damages Hong Kong’s reputation as a tolerant and diverse city. Banks and other corporations, no doubt, realise that the policy also makes it more difficult to attract the talent they need. Removing the ban on same-sex dependency visas should be a first step towards better recognition and protection of sexual minority rights.

The Equal Opportunities Commission released a report in January recommending the introduction of laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination. It called on the government to launch a public consultation on the content and scope of the laws as soon as possible. That should now be done. There is no room for discrimination against sexual minorities in our society.