Activists urge lawmakers to stand against anti-gay prejudice
Transgender community advised to open 'conversation' on rights for sexual minorities
International activists have urged Hong Kong's policymakers to take a stand against anti-gay prejudice and provide equal rights for sexual minorities - even if same-sex marriage is not yet an option.
The government need look no further than Taiwan, said one activist at a Hong Kong symposium on sexual minorities' rights.
"Taiwan serves as a model because it has already enacted legislation that protects sexual minorities against discrimination in employment and education," Professor Holning Lau of the University of North Carolina's school of law, said.
Professor Stephen Whittle, a British activist who teaches law at Manchester Metropolitan University, said Hong Kong should also note that the Japanese government was under pressure from its courts on the issue.
"The courts supported the arguments for [transgender] people's rights and told the government very clearly that change was needed," he said.
Whittle, who advised the Japanese government at the turn of the millennium, said that given the political limitations, Hong Kong's transgender community needed to begin a "reasonable conversation" about having their rights recognised.
The activists are attending Hong Kong's first international symposium on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights that begins today at the Chinese University and was jointly organised by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the European Union's local office and the university's gender research centre.
Hong Kong has yet to even launch a consultation on a law to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
While offering Taiwan as an example to follow, Lau also noted that it had its limits. "Taiwan's legal regime ... stops at employment and education," he said.
Boris Dittrich, a former Dutch politician and a human rights activist, said Asia was "very slow" on the issue of same-sex marriage compared to Latin America or Europe.
Dittrich stressed the need for anti-discrimination laws.
"Even in a country like the Netherlands, where most laws are in place and there is a high acceptance … discrimination still takes place." He said this came partly from religious groups.
Reverend Duncan Dormor, dean of St John's College at the University of Cambridge, said the church was "clearly still on a journey". But he saw a chance for sexual minorities to be more readily accepted in Hong Kong.
"Attitudes to homosexuality in Hong Kong have changed significantly over the last decade or so and I strongly suspect that will continue to develop," he said.
Businesses were beginning to understand that people who could "be themselves rather than stay in the closet" were good for productivity, he said.