On Sunday afternoon at Tamar Park, in Admiralty, more than 15,000 people are expected to gather for the annual Pink Dot rally. Launched in Singapore in 2009, the event spread to Hong Kong last year and attracted a strong crowd in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality issues.

Far too often, contemporary Hong Kong regards the past with rose-tinted, selectively remembered nostalgia. People much too young to, thankfully, have ever experienced homophobic violence proudly wave the rainbow flag at popular events such as Pink Dot.

Prejudice and discrimination - fomented by Hong Kong's politically influential Christian bigots - remains an ongoing problem, but for most LGBT people, everyday life has only improved with the passage of time.

It was no use pretending that such things didn't exist: they were there … for anybody who wanted to look for them
Kenneth Andrew, author


Before gay-friendly bars and events became mainstream, where did local homosexuals meet?

In his 1962 memoir Hong Kong Detective, former police officer Kenneth Andrew provides insight into Hong Kong's pre-war homosexual subculture.

"After dark, Statue Square [in Central] was the haunt," Andrew writes. "It was no use pretending that such things didn't exist: they were there … for anybody who wanted to look for them.

"They would not accost anybody or try to open a conversation; but, as they passed you, they would identify themselves by bringing out a white handkerchief soaked in perfume. A slight wave of this and the scent would be wafted towards anyone they wished to interest.

"The most notorious was called Luk Mui - also known as 'Pink Socks' from his habit of wearing such socks with his patent-leather shoes. He also wore a long silk gown and was really not at all a bad-looking young man."

While some flamboyant individuals "liked to dress in female finery, others didn't pretend to be anything but male".

Much like today, circles of acquaintance and popular meeting places came and went.

"I remember an incident concerning a homosexual who, among others of his kind [frequented] the precincts of St John's Cathedral," writes Andrew. "This was a new group about whom nothing had been known before. Apparently, they couldn't afford to rent premises and found it necessary to operate in the cathedral garden under cover of darkness. The church authorities were, needless to say, as anxious as we were to put a stop to this sort of thing. Acts of sodomy being committed in the shadow of the church was something that didn't bear thinking about!"

More commercially oriented meeting places also existed.

"Occasionally some homosexuals were found to operate in a sort of sly brothel," Andrew writes. "There was not much of this sort of thing. When a case came to light the police were quick to deal with it."

See also: Hong Kong’s annual LGBT festival: where pink means party

Societal prejudice, combined with legal proscription (male homosexuality was illegal in Hong Kong until 1991; the age of consent was only equalised in 2006), meant gathering in virtually any public venue involved considerable personal risk. Given the level of police surveillance Andrew's account indicates, blackmail seems surprisingly absent. "I never heard of anyone having to pay protection money," he says.

As Andrew sympathetically notes, "most of these homosexuals were rather lonely figures".

No wonder!

That anyone forced to live under these circumstances ever managed to form a permanent, loving relationship from a sad series of furtive couplings seems incredible. Nevertheless, some fortunate individuals did somehow forge a measure of lasting happiness in the face of enormous negative odds, and their long ago struggle deserves remembrance.