People gather for the Pride Parade at Edinburgh Place in Central, Hong Kong, on November 16, 2019. Photo: Chan Ho-him
Brian Y. S. Wong
Brian Y. S. Wong

Time for Hong Kong to protect its LGBT community from discrimination

  • For politicians seeking to spark hope in the public, there are few better ways than enacting robust laws to protect same-sex couples
  • We have a vibrant gay scene and an administration that is, on balance, more openly tolerant of LGBT individuals than many in the region. We should consolidate our advantage
A Japanese court recently ruled that the state’s failure to recognise same-sex marriage was unconstitutional – a landmark verdict that came after decades of arduous campaigning.
In Hong Kong, meanwhile, a recently widowed gay man is mounting a legal case to have his relationship with his deceased partner recognised. If successful, this could pave the way for same-sex relationships to be legally recognised in the city.  

What underlies both cases is their timeliness and their reflection of deeply anachronistic legal systems that are not commensurate with public interests and opinion.

Now there is no effective opposition in the Legislative Council and it could, in theory, pass whatever laws it wants to, the case for legislating to prevent discrimination over sexual orientation has never been stronger.

The current Bill of Rights Ordinance protects individuals against sexual orientation discrimination from the state and public authorities, yet few laws explicitly or effectively preclude discrimination in the private sector. Efforts by the Equal Opportunities Commission to steer the government to enact such legislation in 2016 failed, followed by little but platitudes from the administration. 

There are many reasons such legislation is a great idea, aside from the obvious moral case. First, public attitudes have been rapidly shifting in favour of more progressive laws that enshrine the interests of sexual minorities.

A local study last year by Chinese University’s Sexualities Research Centre found that only 12 per cent of respondents objected to laws against LGBT discrimination, a substantial drop from the 35 per cent in 2016. Nearly 60 per cent backed the proposed changes.


Japanese lesbian couple overjoyed as landmark ruling paves way for same-sex marriage

Japanese lesbian couple overjoyed as landmark ruling paves way for same-sex marriage

For any politicians seeking to turn over a new leaf in the city’s governance and reignite some semblance of hope in the public, there are few better ways than legislating robust laws that institutionalise same-sex couples’ freedom from ostracisation and right to recognition, association and – if possible – forming civil unions.  

The passage of a law protecting breastfeeding women is a welcome sign that Legco can bring about some good. It would be practical and laudable for the government to continue the trend in addressing long-standing bigotry and alienation confronting Hong Kong citizens.

Such legislative changes would also go a long way to assure foreign nationals and investors that the administration is committed to taking human rights and civil liberties seriously – notwithstanding the ongoing political tightening.

On that note, legislating against same-sex discrimination could lend Hong Kong a competitive edge in attracting top-tier foreign talent. If we are going to draw in young blood to replenish the talent lost as a result of a brain drain, that might be a good place to start. 

The recent years of political turmoil have rendered the city increasingly less attractive to Asia-minded professionals migrating from the West.


Same-sex couples for the first time marry at Taiwan’s mass army wedding

Same-sex couples for the first time marry at Taiwan’s mass army wedding
Yet for individuals for whom sexual expression and liberation are vital criteria in determining where to settle and live, Hong Kong remains preferable to regional rivals such as Tokyo and Singapore. We have a vibrant gay scene and an administration that is, on balance, more openly tolerant of LGBT individuals.

We should seize on this and consolidate our advantage by passing comprehensive laws. This would signal the administration’s resolve in ensuring the well-being and safety of LGBT people and also showcase the city’s progressiveness compared to its rivals.

Parts of Hong Kong’s political system cannot be changed, and parts are well within the established boundaries. There is no reason to think our legal system’s treatment of same-sex couples falls into the former category. 

Finally, much ink has been spilled on the need to address the city’s long-standing socioeconomic inequality. Yet beyond that, Hong Kong is riddled with problems, from teenage suicide and bullying at school to the mental and physical health of disenfranchised groups and the mainstream alike. Beijing has repeatedly called on the city’s administration to tackle Hong Kong’s fundamental problems.


Taiwan's biggest pride march after same-sex marriage legalised

Taiwan's biggest pride march after same-sex marriage legalised

Homophobia should count among these issues. Our government currently foots hefty legal bills – with taxpayers’ money – in fighting blatantly counterproductive and detrimental battles against basic protections for same-sex couples in the city. This is a ludicrous squandering of resources.

That money is much better spent elsewhere. Spare a thought for the thousands of LGBT youth who are afflicted with severe mental health problems as a result of harassment and bullying by peers over their sexuality.

Spare another thought for the homeless LGBT individuals forcefully evicted from their homes by unsympathetic parents and family. And spare a thought for those mourning their partners’ deaths, only to be told their legal status is not recognised under a morally bankrupt bureaucracy.

The administration has insisted that marriage must be between a man and a woman, and that the time is not right for the city to embrace more progressive legislation on discrimination based on sexual orientation. I am loathe to think of any time for which discrimination could ever be “right”. Now is the time to set things right. 

Brian YS Wong is a DPhil in Politics candidate at Balliol College, Oxford, a Rhodes Scholar (Hong Kong 2020) and the founding editor-in-chief of the Oxford Political Review