The View

The Gay Games is Hong Kong’s moment to show the city’s inclusivity. Are we ready?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 10:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 5:13pm

Remember that uncomfortable feeling when you discovered that you weren’t as liberal as you thought you were?

Like the time you might have uttered the cliché: “Some of my best friends are gay, but I wouldn’t want my son or daughter to marry one? Like how Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn confronted their own latent prejudices in Stanley Kramer’s brilliant 1967 comedy Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Hong Kong’s leaders have waded into a potential public relations disaster, or victory - depending on how they handle it - after the confirmation that Hong Kong would host the Gay Games in 2022.

Calls for Hong Kong to better protect LGBT rights as city wins bid to host 2022 Gay Games

It represents quite a feat by our city’s bidding team. We won over Washington D.C. and Guadalajara in Mexico.

Unfortunately, reactions from our city officials sounded like the village elders in Dirty Dancing when Patrick Swayze wanted to introduce dancing. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s pursed lip response was that she had “noted” the event.

Our sports chief, Timothy Fok Tsun-ting and his son Kenneth Fok Kai-kong (the honorary deputy secretary general of the city’s Sports Federation and Olympic Committee), remain silent.

Not only is the stench of intolerance all too visible, but it is a terrible attitude to display for a city that is trying to undergo economic transformation. It threatens to drive away the kind of talent that Hong Kong desperately needs to build a New Economy driven by technological innovation and creativity.

Never mind the millions of dollars that will come from the thousands of athletes and spectators who will participate and attend the games. According to a Kent State University study, the 2014 Gay Games generated US$52.1 million for Cleveland and north-eastern Ohio’s economy.

But it’s more than just about the spending; otherwise the gay community’s contribution to our city will be pigeonholed as a consumer demographic.

It’s a sad revelation and reflection of our society’s recalcitrant conservatism, ingrained bigotry and lack of any openness to new ideas. It shows that any real change is blocked, especially the kind of political and economic reform needed for technological transformation. A transformation in the way Hong Kong creates wealth will require the city to attract all sorts of talent from around the world and all cultures.

Unlike our traditional sectors - trade, legal and accounting services, banking and property investment - technology and the New Economy demand a level of wild creativity that Hong Kong has never possessed or cultivated.

So far, no country or society has been able to generate the level of unbridled creativity like the crucible of Silicon Valley, where talented people from all cultures and beliefs struggle together.

No one judges others against their sexual lifestyles or quirky ideas. Indeed, two of technology’s leading figures - Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, and PayPal’s co-founder, and Facebook’s early investor Peter Thiel - are openly gay.

The New Economy is about unleashing talent and individualism against institutions. No amount of state directed, command economy edicts will make any difference. Bigotry and intolerance are poison to the human spirit and creativity.

Without government support that is open and enthusiastic, the antipathy, grudging and almost disapproving response will grow into a global public relations disaster for Hong Kong.

Now, I don’t expect Carrie Lam or Timothy Fok to join the athletes and participants in a spirited rendition of the Village People’s YMCA, but they should realise that this is Hong Kong’s moment to declare that inclusivity is our way forward.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker.