Blowing Water

Progress has been made on LGBT equality but Hong Kong’s government needs to do more to show support for the LGBT community

  • Unlike in other cities around the world, our leaders have been slow to match their pro-equality words with actions
  • Carrie Lam and other top officials have repeatedly turned down invitations to attend the Hong Kong Pride Parade
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 5:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 5:47pm

I walked on rainbows the other day in the Marais, a historic neighbourhood in Paris that in recent decades has become a world-renowned centre of LGBT culture. Everywhere I went, I felt the pride of this city that unreservedly celebrates diversity, universal values, and rejects discrimination.

The Marais wholeheartedly values and embraces diversity and inclusion policies for the LGBT community, to the extent that the mayor of Paris recently made bright rainbow crossings a permanent feature as a way of striking back at homophobic vandalism.

The rainbow pedestrian crossings were initially just temporary installations to celebrate Paris’ annual Gay Pride, held every June. But some of them were defaced with the words “LGBT get out of France”.

As a result, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that these colourful public artworks, commissioned by La Marche des Fiertés – as Gay Pride is officially known in France – would stay indefinitely. She even vowed to install extra decorations to celebrate gay pride.

I say good on her, because Hidalgo is showing the world that she is not simply confronting bigots and homophobic graffiti or merely supporting LGBT rights, she is in fact fighting a bigger battle to preserve the values of humanity.

From heartbreak to bringing the Gay Games to Asia for the first time

Back in Hong Kong, we have just celebrated the annual Hong Kong Pride Parade, with this year’s focus being a call for equality legislation and gender-neutral facilities across the city.

Hong Kong has been slowly progressing in providing equal rights for homosexuals since 1991, when the legislature agreed to decriminalise private, adult, non-commercial, and consensual homosexual acts. But despite the city’s slow and steady progress towards a more just and fair society for the LGBT population, it pales in comparison to many international cities such as Paris when it comes to public attitude and shifts in mindset in embracing LGBT rights.

Why is that? you might ask.

Our government has a part to play in influencing how social norms should evolve. It has the power to be the catalyst to shape society’s values but it has chosen not to walk the walk.

Moving the LGBT issue forward is not just about recognising LGBT people’s basic rights on paper, but also showing real support by standing side-by-side with them in their struggle.

Hong Kong Pride marchers’ call for equality undimmed by poor weather

The government has been churning out words about how committed they are to promoting equal rights and opportunities for the LGBT community. They have been blowing their own trumpet about their commitment to fostering inclusiveness, equality, human rights, and eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation in society. But our leaders have been keeping their distance from Pride marches all these years. None of the city’s top leaders, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, have ever accepted invitations to attend the event.

We have all been taught how to assess a person’s true character, and that is to judge them by what they do rather than what they say. So, if that is a rule of thumb, what does it say about our government’s attitude towards LGBT rights?

Hong Kong’s Pride Parade celebrated its 10th anniversary this year but LGBT activists are still fighting for legislation against discrimination.

This year, the march also celebrated a milestone as it came in the wake of a momentous court ruling in July by Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal to grant same-sex partners spousal visas, which were previously available only to heterosexual couples.

Despite this breakthrough, the city still does not recognise same-sex marriages and lags behind in terms of legislation to protect people against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Even if we had all the necessary legislative measures in place to grant equal rights and legal protection for the LGBT population, no laws can change public attitudes overnight. It has to be done through education over time. Marketing, particularly social marketing, can also play a crucial role.

Oreo’s marketing campaign for Pride is a stellar example of such social marketing. It simply used a photo of a classic Oreo cookie, but with rainbow-coloured fillings to represent the LGBT flag. By using tried-and-tested strategies, this type of marketing aims to influence social attitudes and behaviours, as opposed to retail-driven ones.

Community leaders and government officials have to first of all take the lead to show their acceptance and support. No public education that promotes recognition would be more powerful than the presence of government officials alongside the LGBT community at critical moments in their struggle.

It is time for our government leaders to fully embrace human rights, including those of the LGBT community, because every individual, regardless of where they are from, what they believe in, and how they choose to live their life should enjoy the same rights and freedoms as every other human being.

Gay Pride events matter and should be celebrated by all, as they serve to remind us that accepting differences means we understand we are all alike, through our shared values as a member of humanity. In other words, it means cherishing human dignity, equality, decency, respect, and many more universal principles.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post