During the past year, the right of homosexuals to equality within society has been hotly debated throughout the world. Much of that has been about same-sex marriage, though it has also gone to the fundamental question of whether homosexuals can be denied the same rights and responsibilities required of everyone else. Hong Kong is the first place in Asia to openly consider the issue. Gays and lesbians in Hong Kong say they are caught in something of a catch-22 situation - they can't come out for fear of discrimination, but if they don't come out, there's no way to measure whether the discrimination is real. The majority feel they have no choice but to lead an unhappy 'double life', says Roddy Shaw Kwok-wah, whose Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities is compiling data relating to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. 'Those fears are very real,' says Mr Shaw. 'They are afraid that if they come out to their family, they will be disowned and thrown out onto the streets. If they come out at work, they're afraid they will lose their job. If they come out to friends, they're afraid of being abandoned.' Hong Kong doesn't have the community support systems that exist in other countries, where gays and lesbians feel safe from persecution, he says. 'Discrimination can be very direct, like being spat upon, or very subtle, like the click of a tongue. It demeans Hong Kong, which would like to be thought of as a world city, without the responsibilities that go with it.' Mr Shaw says the discrimination often goes unreported, because there's no official mechanism to address complaints and the fear of being exposed. Support group Horizons in 2003-04 logged 20 calls inquiring about or reporting discrimination. Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities received 23 cases in 2003-04 alleging discrimination. Lesbian support group Queer Sisters received five calls last year. The Equal Opportunities Commission, which has no charter to hear cases of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, received 89 inquiries from 1998-2004. 'This is about basic human rights and if we need to pass a law to protect those rights, then that is what we must do,' says Mr Shaw.