York Chow Yat-ngok, chairperson of Equal Opportunities Commission at his office in Taikoo. Photo: David Wong

Hong Kong ready for anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people - and government must act now, study says

Equal Opportunities Commission says public opinion has for the first time turned in favour of legislation to support sexual minorities

Jennifer Ngo

The Equal Opportunities Commission says the government should start discussing an anti-discrimination law to protect sexual minorities as public opinion had for the first time turned in favour of legislation.

The government will be under pressure to answer calls for legislation by the watchdog, especially as they contradict those made by a government advisory group less than a month ago.

Support for anti-discrimination legislation had doubled in the past decade according to an EOC study released yesterday – a trend in line with growing global consciousness on human rights and justice.

In the citywide representative phone survey of 1,000 people, 91.8 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 deemed legislation as necessary. Close to half of religious Hongkongers – traditionally the most opposed to such legislation – also indicated they supported a law to protect sexual minorities from discrimination.

“If there is no protection, we’ll still have discrimination ... and don’t underestimate its damage,” said commission chairman Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, who said a public consultation should be launched – not on whether to legislate but how to legislate.

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Far-reaching consequences in not taking action included losing local talent and failing to attract foreign talent – as the younger generation obviously saw this as an issue of social justice, he added.

In contrast, a report released last month by a government-appointed advisory group on the same topic sought “further study” from other jurisdictions before deciding whether or not to legislate. The advisory group did not conduct any public consultation.

Three of the 14-member group demanded their names be removed from the group’s report.

Retired minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping said the government rarely rejected recommendations made by statutory bodies like the commission.

“If [the government] rejects it, they will need to explain why ... to reject [the suggestions] would be a political incident.”

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He also said he found it strange that the government had a separate advisory group on the issue.

Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of the Society for Truth and Light, a conservative Christian group, said a law was not necessary and that issues faced by sexual minorities could be dealt with through amending individual “relevant” laws.

“Different opinion should not equate to discrimination,” said Choi, who felt such a law may infringe on religious freedom.

Chow said issues regarding religious freedom and freedom of speech could be addressed through built-in exemptions, used in many countries. Anti-discrimination protection for those with different sexual orientation exists in Taiwan, Macau, Canada and other jurisdictions.

A spokeswoman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said the government would study both reports and contact relevant groups.