It’s time to commit on improving gay rights in Hong Kong
A lack of policy support and institutional safeguards means equality for sexual minorities remains a work in progress in Hong Kong. Carrie Lam’s policy address is a good opportunity to show her commitment on the issue
Gay rights in Asia appear to have made some progress recently. In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison. This has prompted a similar legal challenge in Singapore. Separately, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad weighed into the row over the caning of two Muslim women for attempting lesbian sex, saying the punishment did not reflect the justice or compassion of Islamic faith. In Hong Kong, acceptance of same-sex relationships has also been on the increase. But a lack of policy support and institutional safeguards means equality for sexual minorities remains a work in progress. The situation does not square with our claim to be Asia’s world city.
Certainly, the development in individual countries on this front does not revolutionise the whole region. But in the case of India, it shows that acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights is an irresistible trend. Activists hope the decriminalisation of homosexuality will pave the way for equality in marriage and other areas, although they reckon there will still be a long road ahead.
Hong Kong has long moved on from decriminalisation, and social attitude towards homosexuality has become more tolerant. Regrettably, this is not matched by corresponding improvements in government policies and legislative protection. Despite a series of legal challenges against discriminatory immigration arrangements and civil service benefits for same-sex couples, an overhaul of government policies is still nowhere near.
The previous government came under fire for reneging on its promise of a public consultation on anti-discrimination legislation. The stance of the incumbent administration is also questioned by LGBT rights activists, who criticised chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for snubbing their questions during a Facebook live session recently. The issues in question are no doubt controversial and should therefore be tackled as early as possible. With at least four years to go in her current term, Lam has ample time to make a difference. The policy address next month is a good opportunity to show her commitment on this front.