Lesbians from mainland China revel in Hong Kong's freedom

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 8:16am

When Fanta, 25, from Shenzhen, attended her first Les Péchés party in a Lan Kwai Fong nightclub last year, she was not even sure she was a lesbian.

"But the people here are so welcoming, it totally changed my life and I became very comfortable with my sexual identity," she said last week while dancing with local and expat friends at the monthly event.

Party organisers say more gay women from the mainland are coming to Hong Kong to attend LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) events.

"We have definitely had many more women from the mainland come to our parties in the past few years," said Betty Grisoni, co-founder of Les Péchés, a non-profit organisation that runs social events for lesbians and bisexual and transsexual women.

"Women find out about our events on Facebook and organise groups to come to Hong Kong together, often staying in the city for a few days," she said.

Connie Chan Man-wai, organiser of the yearly Hong Kong Pride Parade, which took place yesterday, said more mainland lesbians were joining in.

"They're not allowed to organise marches at home, so they see Hong Kong as the only place in China where they can publicly support the LGBT movement," she said.

Yue Li, a sociology doctorate student who volunteered with Beijing-based lesbian rights groups, was among the crowd this year.

"In 2004 police shut down a queer movie festival in Beijing and arrested some of the organisers," she said. "Now it is easier for lesbians to organise public activities as long as we're cautious, but Hong Kong is still a much freer society."

About 4,000 people marched from Victoria Park to Central yesterday, up from 2,500 last year, Chan said. They strutted their way down Hennessy Road wearing tutus, tights and all manner of rainbow-hued clothing.

Singer and actress Denise Ho Wan-sze surprised many by getting on the stage at the Chater Garden venue and declaring she was a lesbian, marking a highlight of the event.

As the crowd gathered after their hour-long march, they had a message for legislators who opposed the Legco motion put by Cyd Ho Sau-lan of the Labour Party last week calling for public debate on a law to ensure equal rights for people of all sexual orientations.

"No matter what you say … you will not be able to rewrite the universal declaration of human rights. LGBT rights are a human right, legislation now!" yelled Chan.

The parade is part of Pink Season, the largest LGBT festival in Asia, with events running until mid-December.

Pink Season, which was launched last year with the support of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, strives to make Hong Kong a "LGBT-friendly tourist destination".

Dr Lucetta Kam Yip-lo, assistant professor of Humanities at Hong Kong Baptist University and author of Shanghai Lalas: Female Tongzhi communities and Politics in Urban China, said: "LGBT bars or events such as the pride march are a big tourist attraction for lesbians." She said the "pink dollar" was a great tourism opportunity.

But Hong Kong lesbians such as Chan are quick to point out that they often visit mainland cities, with lesbian bars and social events in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai serving as major attractions.

In fact, they say lesbians on the mainland seem to be more publicly accepted than in Hong Kong, which they say is more influenced by conservative Christian groups and lawmakers.

"Lesbianism is cool in China," said Luvi, a 26-year-old graphic designer from Beijing. "Ever since a group of trendy lesbians became famous on the singing contest show Super Girl, teenagers have been trying to imitate their style."

But Luvi said that lesbians in Hong Kong still had greater freedom when it came to marriage. "There is so much pressure to have traditional marriages that it's common for lesbians and gay men in China to marry each other just to make their parents happy," she said.

Hong Kong women, on the other hand, have "more social and economic bargaining power to resist marriage and explore other lifestyles", according to Kam.

Lesbians from all over China hope that increased interaction among LGBT communities will support social progress across the region.