Love Wins: The Road to LGBTI Equality in Hong Kong—and Around the World
It’s here! Sunday, September 25 marks the third edition of Pink Dot HK, a celebration of diversity in support of LGBTI communities in Hong Kong and all over the world. This year’s theme, “Love Wins,” is a reminder that in the end, love really can conquer all.
We take a look at other places around the world where, despite often enormous odds, love is winning.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997. Since then, the People’s Republic has seen gradual progress towards a wider acceptance of LGBTI issues, though more in the social arena than the legal. This year, 27-year-old Meng Fanyu was voted the first ever Mr Gay China in the first successful iteration of the competition in the country. A survey suggests that of the 27 million users of Blued, China’s largest gay dating app, less than 5 percent are out.
Q: What are the main challenges of being gay in Chinese society?
A: I would say the biggest difficulty in the region would be the uneven protection across China for the rights of LGBTI people, which are part of the human rights of every Chinese citizen. Hong Kong and Taiwan fare a bit better in terms of equal protection under the law. However, there are still lapses. Hong Kong still lacks legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity.
— Raymond “Slow Beat” Chan, Hong Kong’s first and only gay legislator
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The Himalayan nation is now considered a world leader in its approach to LGBTI issues. The abolition of the monarchy in 2007 paved the way for new laws that legalized homosexuality. Nepal took another leap forward in 2015, with the introduction of a constitution that, among other things, enshrines in law the right of Nepalis to display their preferred gender on their identity cards, as well as provisions against discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation. Nepal is also the home of Sunil Babu Pant, who in 2008 became the first openly gay member of parliament in Asia, serving until 2012.
Q: What’s the next step for trans acceptance in Hong Kong?
A: Our next step should be to review the criteria of gender recognition laws. Trans people who desire different degrees of bodily modification should be treated equally. I also hope that gender boxes will not be a requirement to understand a person. Everyone, no matter how they identify themselves, should be treated equally—just as humans.
— Siufung Law, genderqueer bodybuilder and advocate
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While Vietnam lacks strong anti-discrimination legislation, the country has taken notable strides in the direction of equality. It lifted a ban on same-sex marriage in 2015, though not granting the same legal protections given to heterosexual couples. Also in 2015, Vietnam adopted new laws enshrining the rights of transgender people. In June this year, Vietnam was one of seven Asian countries that voted in support of a UN resolution on the protection of LGBTI individuals.
Q: What are your hopes for trans rights in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia?
A: Anti-discrimation and gender recognition legislation, as well as marriage equality, are the top priorities for trans rights in Hong Kong and in Southeast Asia. And yet I hope that discrimination can be eliminated through more understanding, rather than legislation.
— Joanne Leung, Chairperson, Transgender Resource Center
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Given the continent’s broadly Catholic history, it may be surprising to some how rapidly many South American countries are progressing on LGBTI issues. Leading the field is Colombia, where the nation’s Constitutional Court has recognized the rights of LGBTI couples in a wide range of areas. Most recently and notably, in April this year, the same court legalized same-sex marriage, sparking celebrations across the country.
Q: How far is Hong Kong from legalizing same-sex marriage?
A: There are some very interesting situations bubbling away under the surface of Hong Kong at the moment that could have ground-breaking effects for the LGBTI community. Two of these are legal cases that are defending same-sex couples’ rights to be recognized as such. If they are won, which we hope and expect they will be, then the law will have to be changed. It is a fight that must be fought in all possible ways, though. By breaking down the barriers of misconception, engaging in conversation and working together, the journey will be much easier. It is going to be a long struggle, but I believe that we will get there.
—Philip Howell-Williams, Director, Pink Season HK
There are plenty of countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have, to put it mildly, a long way to go on LGBTI rights. Unlike almost all its neighbors, but as seen in some other former Portuguese African colonies, Mozambique is making great progress: Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 2015, and discrimination against LGBTI persons in the workplace has been outlawed since 2007.
Q: Hong Kong’s discrimination ordinance doesn’t include LGBTI people. How do we help to change that?
A: Large organizations, like some of our sponsors for Pink Dot, have diversity departments that have budgets! These are big financial and law firms. In Hong Kong, they are actually the ones saying that you cannot discriminate against an LGBT person. They’re the ones that make Hong Kong run, so they’re the ones that can pressure the government.
—Betty Grisoni, Co-Director, Pink Dot
Brian Leung, chief campaigner of BigLove Alliance and Co-Director of Pink Dot Hong Kong, tells us about the progress of the LGBTI movement in Hong Kong and what he hopes to achieve through Pink Dot.
How have LGBTI rights been doing in the past few years in Hong Kong? For the past few years, public opinion towards equality and LGBTI issues has been a lot more open and accepting. But when it comes to legislation, we’re still stuck with no progress whatsoever. In the last four years we’ve been talking about legislation for the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance (SODO), and the Equal Opportunities Commission has published reports saying that mainstream opinion in society is supportive, but the government remains stationary.
How did you come up with Pink Dot? Pink Dot was my idea three years ago. I saw that it was very successful in Singapore and thought that in addition to the annual Pride Parade, we could have another event that’s softer, and targets not just LGBTI people, but also our friends, family, and straight allies. This year’s theme, “Love Wins,” comes from some American LGBTI rights advocacy groups, when they fought for legalizing same-sex marriage last year. By using it here, we hope Hongkongers can realize LGBTI people should be entitled to the same rights as straight people.
This is the third edition of Pink Dot. What do you hope to see in a year from now? It’s hard to predict, but of course we hope that SODO will be passed, or at least opened for public consultation. For marriage rights, even if there can’t be same-sex marriage in Hong Kong right away, we hope we can discuss the possibility of civil unions or other ways to bring our rights closer to those of heterosexuals.
What can straight allies do to help? Come to Pink Dot! Other than that, we at BigLove Alliance have many campaigns throughout the year, and we welcome everyone to come volunteer for us to spread our message of inclusiveness. If the message stays only within our community, it’ll never get out.
Find out more on biglovealliance.org.