Criticised from many quarters for its opposition to gay anti-discrimination laws, the Society for Truth and Light insists it is merely a conduit for people to express views. The organisation hit the headlines again recently and outraged rights groups by winning an Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) contract to teach human rights and anti-discrimination laws to primary school teachers. The group held its first class with teachers at its Lai Chi Kok headquarters last week. The Society for Truth and Light was formed shortly before the handover in 1997 to combat what it saw as a rising tide of pornography and violence portrayed in the local media. Mary Leung Ling Tien-wei, one of the founding members of the society, said: 'We were just a group of people who came together. As we approached 1997, we felt a lot of issues in the community might get lost in the process because there were so many more pressing political issues at the time. One of those things was that pornography was getting very rampant.' Truth and Light's first major victory came when several mass-circulation Chinese-language newspapers agreed to stop publishing brothel guides after the group took out full-page newspaper ads urging people not to buy publications that ran the information. It continues to monitor the release of sleazy material and earlier this year claimed to have got PCCW to clean up its Yellow Pages, which previously had featured explicit ads for escort services and massage parlours. The group's other bugbear is gambling, and it set its sights on preventing the legalisation of football betting. 'We lost that one,' said Ms Leung. The government legalised gambling on soccer matches in 2003. That battle also aroused strong feelings. 'When we were against football gambling, we were assailed and threatened. We expect that,' said Ms Leung. The society believes that in Hong Kong's quest for freedom and a liberal society, the views of many in the community are getting lost. 'We're worried that young people may get anti-social and contradictory messages,' said Ms Leung. She denied that the organisation was anti-gay, and said: 'I don't think we are of the view that anyone is evil ... This issue of homosexuality, I refuse to admit that we hate gays. I am a social worker, how could I be against anyone?' She was also eager to say that the group, despite being regularly described as a conservative Christian organisation, was not a religious one. 'The people who set us up are not from one particular church,' said Ms Leung. 'We don't come together because of a particular denomination. We come together because we are concerned about the same things. I don't think we label ourselves as religious, but because of the stance we have taken, some religious groups might agree with us more.' The group claims it stimulates public debate by bringing issues to the fore that might otherwise be overlooked. Asked if part of their method of promoting discussion was by provoking and outraging liberal groups, Ms Leung said: 'It is the opposite. We want to have a quiet and rational discussion. We refuse to be outraged. When we took a stance against pornography, it became very exaggerated. People become so emotionally involved. 'We actually try to stay calm. When our staff are provoked and labelled, I tell them we should not use violence against violence. We learn to just listen to each other.' She cited the formation last year of a counselling group for gays and lesbians set up by a council member, Dr Hong Kwai-wah, as an example of the work the organisation does for the gay community. That counselling seminar was slammed by critics and gay groups who said the forum sought to tell gay people their lifestyle was a 'problem'. In the years since it was first set up, the number of supporters for the society's campaigns has grown enormously. In one of its first campaigns in 1998, the group called for a boycott of the popular press and 'infotainment' shows on television after controversial coverage of Chan Kin-hong, whose wife killed herself and their two sons. That was backed by 700 people. Then there is the group's campaign to oppose the introduction of sexual-orientation, anti-discrimination laws. The government received more than 50,000 letters after Truth and Light, and other conservative Christian groups, the Sex Culture Society and the Hong Kong Alliance for Family placed full-page advertisements in papers opposing the law. This was before the government began any public consultation. And in August this year, the group lobbied the government with a 27,500-signature petition to appeal against a High Court ruling that overturned a law banning sexual acts between men under 21. Mr Justice Michael Hartmann had said the ordinance violated the Basic Law and discriminated against homosexuals. The government is now appealing that decision. The society, which has 13 full-time staff members, funds its many campaigns by donations from churches and supporters, by cash raised on flag days and from fees for its classes. The group's first flag day, held earlier this year, prompted one gay man to start an e-mail campaign calling for the public not to place any cash in the Truth and Light volunteers' collection boxes. The group's 1,600 volunteers raised $680,000 that day, said Helen Fu Dan-mui, the lobby group's assistant general secretary. She said the group did not have members. 'There's no subscription or membership fees. We attract people who may have the same beliefs or values that we do - social workers, church pastors, scholars and doctors, people from all walks of life.' The society elicits strong views from its supporters, opponents and observers. Its stance on opposing the creation of extra rights for homosexuals resulted in an avalanche of protests and letter-writing from human-rights groups. Reacting to Truth and Light winning a tender bid to teach primary school teachers about human rights for the EMB's school syllabus, Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, likened the move to 'giving child molesters a contract to educate on how to protect children'. A letter-writer to the South China Morning Post waded in with: 'Giving this role to the group is no different to inviting Adolf Hitler to explain what democracy is, or asking al-Qaeda to hold a talk on the topic of peace.' In response to queries about how the Truth and Light's course would approach the subject of gay rights, it said it would not mention them, a decision the EMB says it 'respects' and one that has again drawn the ire of gay groups. Despite widespread opposition to its choice of course co-ordinator, the EMB has no plans to back down, but says its representatives will sit in the course as observers and 'record and evaluate the performance of the course provider'. Participants will be asked to evaluate the course. The EMB says it respects the organisation's decision not to touch on the subject of homosexuality in its teaching course - another move that drew the wrath of opponents who say that if the course addresses human rights, it should also address minority rights.