Review decision to restrict access to LGBT books in libraries

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has moved some materials with gay themes to closed stacks following a complaint by a pressure group. If the government is committed to equal rights for all people, it should revisit the justification

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 2:20am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 2:20am

What is so harmful about a handful of children’s books that Hong Kong libraries must hide them away? The answer is simple yet absurd – the books contain LGBT themes and drew complaints from an anti-gay group.

The outcome is hardly surprising for a government known for being conservative about gay rights. But it does nothing for our image as a tolerant and fair society.

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The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs the city’s 70 libraries, has yet to come up with a convincing case why it removed the 10 books from regular shelves. Even after some books were deemed to be “neutral” in nature following a review, they were still moved to closed stacks.

The decision, according to the department, was to ensure parents could offer guidance on the issue to their children who might want the books, which will still be available for reading or borrowing upon request.

The move has raised concern over the management of public libraries as well as the government’s commitment to equality for gays and lesbians. The authority saw no problems in acquiring the books and making them available for young readers in the first place.

Yet it made a U-turn when a vocal anti-gay body, the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group, lodged a complaint. Will the restricted access be lifted again when there is a counter-complaint?

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How will the authority respond if there are similar campaigns calling for the removal of politically sensitive materials from collections?

The libraries are right not to use their collections to promote specific beliefs or viewpoints. This is in line with the principles of the Unesco Public Library Manifesto.

The Singaporean authorities were caught in a similar row earlier and withdrew a few books in question. In the United States, calls for the West Chicago public library last year to remove a children’s book featuring gay pride elements were rejected. If the Hong Kong government is as committed to equal rights as it says, a review of the decision is called for.