The Hong Kong Gay Games has brought the bigots out of the woodwork, talking about traditional values. Photo: Lucas Barioulet / AFP
Then & Now
by Jason Wordie
Then & Now
by Jason Wordie

Hong Kong’s Gay Games brings out the bigots talking about traditional values. Do they mean female slavery, infanticide and foot binding, or plain intolerance?

  • Hong Kong Gay Games is a sporting event open to all, but some lawmakers are calling it ‘disgraceful’
  • They cite religious and traditional values, forgetting what those ideals really meant

In 1895, Irish playwright Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted in London for homosexual offences, in a widely publicised prosecution that remains controversial. Some erstwhile friends rushed to denounce the author for his “crimes” (which most were aware of anyway) while others sought to combine attempts at tolerance with remarks calculated not to alienate their own public – and sources of income.

Probably the most widely repeated observation was made by actress Mrs Patrick Campbell, who famously stated: “I don’t care what they do in the bedroom, as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!”

Variations on these two-edged “I don’t care what they do in private – But …” sentiments were recently aired in what currently passes for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, by fruity-tongued former president of the Law Society Junius Ho Kwan-yiu. In a characteristically bilious tirade about “dirty money”– immediately parroted by other legislators of similar overall stature – Ho criticised the public provision of facilities for the Gay Games, scheduled to be held in Hong Kong next year.

Bigoted ramblings about this “disgraceful” event – actually a diverse, open-to-all set of sporting fixtures – briefly attracted the kind of media coverage that inevitably settles, like a swarming cloud of blowflies on a fresh cowpat, around such controversies. Ho has form; previous remarks in the chamber, back in 2017, equated the legalisation of same-sex marriage with public acceptance of bestiality and incest. Even Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor – not noted for her ability to admit mistakes and shortcomings – felt compelled, some days later, to mutter a cautious rebuke, and affirm official support for the 2022 event.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who likened the legalisation of same-sex marriage to public acceptance of bestiality and incest. Photo: May Tse

Inevitably, attention shifted to the supposed “threat to family values” that the Gay Games might engender. This would be merely sad, except that the imagined “traditional values” that these historically illiterate retrogrades inevitably reference are at sharp variance with hard facts.

Three generations ago or less, Hong Kong’s self-appointed guardians of past virtues embraced traditions rather different from those they now enthusiastically espouse. Ancestor worship was universal. Female education, and a life outside the home for women was – except for manual workers – almost unheard of; female infanticide was not uncommon; the buying and selling of mui tsai (“little sisters”) – in practice, slaves – was normal. Foot binding – as a means of complete physical control of women’s bodies, a kinky sexual fetish and a repulsive demonstration of individual male power (“See! I can afford to support so many useless mouths”) – was widespread.

Regina Ip backs Hong Kong Gay Games, but others say it’s ‘disgraceful’

Curiously enough, none of these “traditional values” – now rightly consigned to the dustbin of history – are ever proudly recalled by today’s curators of moral rectitude.

Respect for “tradition” in many societies is a key component of social stability. Less recognised is the fact that hand-me-down belief systems are a feature of most human societies, and the rise of Christian belief in China is no exception, ever since the mid-19th century, when Western missionaries first inflicted themselves on a culture and civilisation far older than their own. Substituting the profoundly humanistic tolerance that characterised traditional China – and which also extended to same-sex relationships – with other, more bigoted “traditions”, such as homophobia, is a principal legacy.

In secular societies based on rule of law, such as Hong Kong continuously claims to be, religious groups merit private and personal courtesy for their individual beliefs, and official tolerance. But these beliefs do not – and must not – have any agency whatsoever in the formation of public policy.

A mural of Michelle Obama in Brixton, London. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

As former American first lady Michelle Obama rightly observed when dealing with racial prejudice, “when they go low, we go high”, and so it should be in civil society’s dealings with the determinedly bigoted, proudly ignorant “odious geniuses” who inevitably float to the surface of Hong Kong’s political cesspit whenever same-sex issues are raised.