‘We haven’t won yet, my life’s still on hold’: lesbian expat reflects on landmark Hong Kong visa victory

Still ‘a long way to go’ for the city in creating equal opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual groups, woman known only as QT says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 11:30pm

Glasses were raised in celebration last month after a lesbian expatriate in Hong Kong learned she had finally won the right to a spousal visa in the city.

After a court battle in which the Immigration Department had maintained that the dependant visa was only available to heterosexual couples, the British woman, known as QT, prevailed in a landmark appeal.

She moved to Hong Kong with her partner in 2011 when the latter secured employment in the city, but after being denied residency rights she decided to lodge a judicial challenge against the government.

Despite the eventual triumph in the courts however, QT spoke of uncertainties looming ahead in an interview with the Post on Tuesday.

“I still don’t think we have won yet,” she said. The department could still lodge a final appeal in the case, she added.

“If they do appeal, I’ll still have to go through that process, and my life will still be on hold.”

QT is barred from working in Hong Kong as long as she does not hold the spousal visa, and though the court ruled in her favour last month she has yet to reapply for the permit.

There was still “a long way to go” for the city in creating equal opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual groups, she said.

The woman urged the government to adopt a three-step approach. Firstly, it should review its current policies in the wake of the court judgment, she said. Secondly, authorities should introduce laws to stop discrimination due to sexual orientation, and thirdly, they should legalise same-sex marriage.

“If they just review their policies, that’s a lot of money and time being saved,” she said.

Lesbian expatriate wins landmark appeal against Hong Kong Immigration Department to secure spousal visa

Casting her memory back to three weeks ago, QT said she had been “relieved” when she learned on September 25 that the Court of Appeal had ruled in her favour.

She went out for a drink back home in Britain on that night with a group of friends who had also had the same brush with Hong Kong immigration.

“There was a lot of celebration within the community,” she said.

In the 68-page judgment handed down by three appeal court justices, it was ruled that the visa scheme the Immigration Department was running amounted to indirect discrimination without justification.

QT said she was particularly encouraged by one of the paragraphs in the judgment written by chief High Court judge Andrew Cheung Kui-nung.

“While oneness, togetherness, jointness and mutuality are hallmarks of a heterosexual marriage relationship, they are not, or no longer, exclusive to such a relationship,” Cheung wrote.

Cheung went on to write that such relationships also took shape in the form of a “same-sex marriage relationship or a civil partnership relationship” in many overseas countries.

QT said this statement showed that even without immediately legally recognising same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, there was room for quick progression in terms of policymaking.

Gay partners cannot challenge denial of dependant visas, Hong Kong Court of Appeal hears

As an example she cited a time when she rushed her partner, SS, to hospital when she fell ill.

QT was stopped from accompanying her partner by nurses at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital. They said she was neither a “family member” nor her “husband”.

“Are you kidding me?” she said.

The staff “pretty much escorted me out of the hospital”, whereas she had never experienced anything like that in Britain.

In areas like these she saw room for Hong Kong to progress even if legal rights remained lacking. Nevertheless she continues to call for anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBT residents in the workplace.

Same-sex visa ruling should be respected

QT’s reasons for taking on the department were personal at first, but grew into something bigger.

Twelve major financial institutions in Hong Kong applied before the appeal hearing to have a say in her case, because they were experiencing problems relocating staff with same-sex partners to the city. QT called that an “exciting turn”.

She entered into a civil partnership with SS in 2011, months before they moved to Hong Kong. She has remained anonymous throughout the case, even to the point where most people at the celebration held last month over the court decision did not know who she was.

Despite her victory, QT said personal matters had taken her back to Britain since the ruling, and she would be there for some time. But eventually she would come back to Hong Kong, where she had been offered at least three jobs, she said. Having an Asian mother meant she felt a connection to the place.

“I definitely prefer Hong Kong to Britain,” she said.