Hong Kong’s core values can shine at the Gay Games in 2022
Rachel Cartland finds it puzzling that the same government that urges Hong Kong people to be tolerant and to respect diversity, has been markedly reticent on hosting the Gay Games. But there is enough time to reconsider
Ever since Hong Kong won the right to host the “Gay Olympics” in 2022, the atmosphere has been marred by the apparent coolness of the government. This seems odd, since the government has policies to encourage the hosting of more mega events, especially ones that will attract international audiences and tourism. It is also keen to see Hong Kong people take a greater interest in sports, for both leisure enjoyment and better health.
Therefore, and understandably, people have concluded that the problem must lie in the event itself – even though such an attitude apparently pays insufficient attention to the fact that the Gay Games is open to all, regardless of sexual orientation.
The Gay Games does, however, have an explicit aim of promoting diversity and respect for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. If this aim is what accounts for the government’s lack of enthusiasm, then this is puzzling and reflects a strange rift in thinking. Public interest announcements regularly punctuate radio and TV schedules: all no doubt carefully thought-out articulations of agreed government policy. Among all the advice on health precautions when travelling and what to do when buying a home, there are frequent calls to citizens to exercise tolerance and respect others, their differences and diversity. One of those announcements rather poetically uses the metaphor of different sounds combining together to make a beautiful symphony.
It is not surprising that respect for diversity should be a theme of government public announcements, given that the Equal Opportunities Commission has been in existence for more than 20 years. The EOC is no mere talk shop, but a statutory body and committed to promoting diversity and equality. Its history has not been free of controversy, but it has been associated with some outstanding people who have given their all to advance the commission’s aims and objectives. When we look at its achievements, we must give credit to its ongoing work; its contributions to making our city a kinder and more equitable place seem undoubted.
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It is also worth noting another, more subtle, contribution: the existence and efforts of the EOC allow Hong Kong to take its place among the ranks of advanced societies, which can have a significant if indirect effect on the decisions of multinational companies to do business here.
There have been suggestions that the government’s reticence on the Gay Games may stem in part from the religious convictions of some senior officials. It would be troubling if this was really the case and that there was so much prejudice around that there were objections to a sports competition; this is something that surely no modern religion would support.
Freedom of religion and freedom of opinion are two of our great treasures, and their continuation is assured by the promises of the Basic Law. All the same, these rights should not be abused by, for example, believers trying to impose on others. Civil servants who follow a faith have a particular responsibility to draw the line between private beliefs and public duties. Belief is part of what makes up a total personality and it is to be hoped that it will have a benevolent influence, helping to shape an ethical outlook. All the same, it cannot be allowed to overshadow and dominate specific public policies which have been carefully formulated over the years to reflect a social consensus.
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If we take a pessimistic view, we will conclude that our government has got itself into a most unfortunate situation over the Gay Games, with its lack of support putting it out of step with the modern world and showing inconsistency with its own policies.
The good news, though, is that the Games are not due to take place until 2022, which means there is still time to reconsider. It would be better for Hong Kong to adopt a new attitude, with the government offering the maximum assistance, so as to ensure that this important event will add lustre to our international reputation while providing a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves of our core values of tolerance, respect and diversity.
Rachel Cartland is director of Cartland Consulting and a former assistant director of Social Welfare in the Hong Kong government