Hong Kong must stop looking the other way about gay rights

A school making teachers sign a morality contract highlights the fact that Hong Kong refuses to get serious on LGBT issues. Let's hope it doesn't take a tragedy to get the city talking about the subject

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 5:14am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 5:14am

What do singer Denise Ho Wan-sze, lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen and real-estate businesswoman Gigi Chao all have in common? They are all gay, and if they were teachers, they would not be allowed to work at International Christian School.

The Sha Tin school was slammed this month when it emerged that it requires its teachers to sign a morality contract that bans same-sex relationships, couples living together outside of marriage and adultery.

The contract goes against the Hong Kong government's employment guidelines, but is not illegal, highlighting the weak legal protections afforded to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Hong Kong.

The Equal Opportunities Commission wrote to the school and vowed to investigate, but has not received a response. The school has declined to comment throughout the backlash.

The controversy has highlighted a reticence by the Hong Kong government to act over gay rights.

In November 2012, the Legislative Council voted down a motion to consult the public over whether gay-rights legislation should be introduced. As recently as 1991, homosexuality among men was a crime with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It was never outlawed for women.

Yet other countries, even those where Christianity is the dominant religion, are showing increasing tolerance by legalising gay marriage.

Yesterday, a law legalising same-sex marriage came into force across England and Wales.

Even more tellingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church of England would accept the law.

Last year, the Catholic Church, historically one of the most critical voices on gay marriage, suggested it too could be open to changing its stance. When asked about gay priests, Pope Francis replied: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"

Yet in Hong Kong, the conversation has stalled. It does not recognise same-sex marriages or civil unions, even those legitimised overseas.

It took a celebrity like Chao, whose father offered up a fortune to any man who could win her hand in marriage, to bring the issue into the public consciousness.

Other than a handful of famous faces, LGBT people complain of not being viewed as real human beings. Instead, they're caricatured in movies or simply viewed as oddities, with a "don't ask, don't tell" mindset.

A growing number of suicides and attacks on LGBT youth in the US has spurred the It Gets Better campaign in that country.

Yet the relative safety of Hong Kong, combined with the Asian tendency to mind one's own business, means LGBT rights and concerns are swept under the rug.

LGBT people in this city may never have to fear violence like their peers elsewhere. But unfortunately, that also means the issue doesn't get the public attention it deserves. And it doesn't mean that they don't experience marginalisation on a daily basis.

Let's hope that it doesn't take a wave of violence against LGBT people to get this city talking.

The author is an alumna of International Christian School