Hong Kong must play the game over the Gay Games
The muted official response to winning bid indicates the low level of importance attached to LGBT issues and such a stance tarnishes our image
Hong Kong likes to portray itself as a liberal and tolerant international society. Yet public awareness and institutional protection are limited when it comes to equality for sexual minorities. The city will be put further to the test after it beat Washington in the US and Guadalajara, Mexico, to become in 2022 the first Asian host of the Gay Games. This is reflected in the muted response from the authorities and media, in stark contrast to the city’s successful bids in hosting the East Asian Games in 2009 and the equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It speaks volumes regarding the low level of importance attached to issues concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Gay Games may not be as well recognised as other sporting events, despite their 35-year history. They are nonetheless seen as the equivalent of the Olympics in the LGBT world, featuring dozens of aquatic as well as track and field events. If experience is any guide, the Games are expected to attract tens of thousands of athletes and visitors from all over the world. The economic benefits and international publicity for the city will be substantial.
Regrettably, some anti-gay groups claim the Games promote homosexuality and hope the government will not offer concessions on the use of venues. This amounts to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and fails to appreciate the spirit of the Games, which encourage diversity, acceptance, equality and respect. The Games welcome both gay and straight competitors. If the authorities are expected to facilitate other sporting events, they should not treat them any differently.
For such a spectacle to succeed, government support is essential. But the response so far has been less than forthcoming, apparently in line with the non-committal position taken by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on the anti-discrimination law. Lam and the minister in charge of human rights have declined to attend the annual gay parade later this month. But the clamour by the LGBT community for more protection will not be dampened as a result.
With Taiwan legalising same-sex marriage and Hong Kong hosting the Gay Games, expectations of further advancement in LGBT rights in the region will only grow. Whether Lam is prepared to do more will be closely followed by the local and overseas communities. Rendering support to the Games will be a good start. They are as much an opportunity for education and awareness as a test of our diversity and tolerance. Our image as Asia’s world city will be tarnished if we do not embrace the equality and rights we preach.