Blowing Water

Time to out LGBT-themed books in Hong Kong to fight prejudice and help children learn

Luisa Tam says local officials want the city to be seen as modern and culturally diverse, but in many areas it falls short

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:48pm

We should thank all those anti-gay activists for having successfully lobbied the government to hide away 10 children’s books with LGBT themes. Had they not, we would never have found out about the existence of such publications in our local public libraries. 

After these titles were consigned to closed stacks – and are now available only on request – the activists went one step further by demanding similar treatment of gay-themed books at the Hong Kong Book Fair to be held later this month. Again, let’s give a round of applause for their relentless efforts, as the issue has now attracted international attention.

But the government’s lamentable behaviour has been somewhat puzzling. The library bosses’ decision to pull the books from the shelves reflected their agreement with the anti-gay activists’ belief that these titles are unsuitable for young minds. So why did they buy them in the first place?

Officials want Hong Kong to be seen as a modern and culturally diverse city, but in many ways, especially in the areas of LGBT rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity, it lags way behind the times. And it goes to show the government has been paying lip service all along when it comes to protecting minority rights.

We need more people like the book fair’s deputy executive director, Benjamin Chau Kai-leung, who responded to the pressure group by emphasising “there is no censorship in publishing in Hong Kong”.

In fact, no form of censorship should be allowed or tolerated when it comes to individual rights, gender equality and the promotion of cultural inclusivity.

The decisions of the library chiefs are now being left with the courts to review whether they are illegal and unconstitutional, but deep down we all know it’s wrong. Any decent human being should stand up and fight prejudice and bigotry.

Those who insist on keeping books with content relating to homosexuality away from children believing they are protecting young people’s sensibilities are in fact achieving the opposite of what they intend to do.

Overprotective parenting can do more harm than good because these children are unlikely to learn the skills needed to form their own identity or acquire the knowledge to tackle problems in life independently.

The least we can do is give our children the facts

Helicopter parenting can lead to difficulties for children attending to everyday tasks as simple as tying their shoelaces. In Hong Kong, shoes with Velcro straps are more popular than those with shoelaces because many children are brought up by domestic helpers, and are too pampered to do up their own laces.

Another widespread phenomenon is that if you ask a young child the colours of an apple or a pear, they would tell you it’s white because these fruits are always peeled and ready for consumption when handed to them.

There is no set recipe for raising children properly, and even if there were, it would almost certainly be long and apply differently from parent to parent. The least we can do is give our children the facts.

In this day and age when information is so easily available, children are more than ever in need of accurate information and proper guidance. Equipping them with proper facts of life can help them build self-confidence, solve problems and then become good decision-makers so they can make the right choices at the right times. Having all these important skills can also contribute to their development into healthy and mature adults.

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Proper parenting should focus on helping children manoeuvre life and solve problems independently, rather than keeping them away from the (sometimes harsh) realities of life and growing up.

Hiding books away from public view, whether you agree with what’s in their pages, infringes on the public’s right to freedom to information and freedom of expression, not to mention it has caused various forms of discrimination relating to gender equality, sexual orientation, gender identity and additional areas.

These and many other gender-related issues are vital to human rights. We need to talk about them as a first step in tackling bias, both conscious and unconscious. We need to “out” these books from the back of our public libraries. Stop hiding this fact of life.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post