SOCIETY

Expats 'put off by Hong Kong' over the lack of gay rights law

Protecting gay people from discrimination is essential if the city is to realise potential, British diplomat tells LGBT rights symposium

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 4:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 3:24pm

A lack of protection for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is deterring talented workers from moving to Hong Kong, a top diplomat said yesterday.

British consul general Caroline Wilson made the comments on the sidelines of the city's first international symposium on LGBT issues, jointly organised by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the European Union and Chinese University's gender research centre.

Asked if the fact the city has no legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation might put expatriates off working here, Wilson said: "Speaking personally, I've been aware of people in the community, or who have previously been in the community, who've spoken to me about the problems they've incurred. So yes."

Wilson stressed the importance of attracting global talent and making the most of the existing workforce to maintaining and enhancing the city's status as a global financial centre.

"Not everybody … is able to realise their potential in a situation where you've got rights … not being protected, and people suffering discrimination and harassment as a result of their sexual orientation," she said.

EOC chairman Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said he was disappointed that, after inviting all 70 lawmakers, only two had attended a behind-closed-doors discussion on sexuality issues held by symposium organisers the previous day. Only one of the religious leaders invited, a Muslim imam, had turned up.

Religious - especially Christian - groups have been strong critics of the idea of gay rights legislation in the city, and the clash between religious belief and the rights of sexual minorities was at the forefront of yesterday's debate.

"It's naive to not engage [in discussion," said Reverend Duncan Dormor, dean chapel at St John's College, the University of Cambridge. The British clergyman said religious groups had a key place in the debate on gay rights, and that elsewhere "failure of the church to engage in sensible discussion has accelerated the process [of same-sex marriage being introduced]."

While gay marriage remains a complex issue, Dormor said anti-discrimination laws were a "no-brainer". He reminded fellow Christians of the Biblical imperatives to "love your neighbour as yourself" and "judge not, lest you be judged".

"My concern is that Christians - zealous Christians - are in danger of being unchristian," Dormor added.

Asad Beg, head of the political, press and information section at the EU's Hong Kong office, added: "Religion shouldn't be used to discriminate against women, against children, or against LGBT people."

Religious freedom and human rights should not be mutually exclusive, he added.

Pastor Tjeerd de Boer, from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong, echoed Dormor's call for dialogue.

The EOC is leading a study on the possibility of legislation to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.