Interview: Eric Herrera - Fruits in Suits

 

Arthur Tam says farewell to Eric Herrera, the brains behind Hong Kong’s longest running LGBTI networking event, Fruits in Suits – and looks to a plum future

Most of us in Hong Kong know that the economy has a strong say in progress and social change. The abolishment of US slavery had just as much to do with economic interests as it actually did with morality. So it’s not difficult to imagine that the future of LGBTI equality also hinges on the power of the pink dollar, an idea that Fruits in Suits – one of Hong Kong’s longest running LGBTI organisations – is more than familiar with. 

Eleven years ago, Fruits in Suits – or FINS – was established by Alvin Cheng, Gavin Denton and Eric Toh as a networking platform for LGBTI professionals. It also served as a body that promoted businesses that are either LGBTI-owned or operated, as well as showcased what certain enterprises can offer the gay community. But probably the most essential part of FINS’ success since the beginning has been, in large part, down to the work of American events planner Eric Herrera who, after six years, took leadership of the organisation as the founders moved on to pursue other endeavours. So it’s a sad time for FINS, then, as Herrera has just announced that he too is moving away to pastures new, leaving his successor with big shoes to fill.

Herrera has been a quintessential cog when it comes to using FINS as a means to raise money and give the cash to LGBTI non-profit organisations like the Pink Alliance. In 2012, FINS raised $32,000 for the Pink Alliance so it could put together Hong Kong’s first month-long LGBTI festival, Pink Season. Herrera has also been a crucial tool when it comes to working with advertising agency Leo Burnett in putting together a wide-reaching survey measuring the importance of Hong Kong’s pink dollar and showing organisations why it’s so important to have an LGBTI-inclusive workplace.

But probably what Herrera is most proud of during his years with FINS is starting a mentorship programme in partnership with Hong Kong University’s Queer Straight Alliance. Herrera recalls a letter he received from one of his mentees that read ‘going to Fruits in Suits allowed me to be proud as a gay person and as a human being. I can now walk proud with my head held high’. “That has to mean something,” says Herrera. “The human side of Fruits in Suits is my biggest takeaway. The mentorship programme helps people find their way and gives them the confidence to ‘come out’ to their friends and family – but also impacts their careers in a vital way.”

This is certainly the case for HKU student Ivy Wong, who gained helpful advice from her mentor. “I felt like I was quite lost before,” she says, “and I wasn’t sure how to pursue what I wanted. It’s important to have a mentor for advice when you’re lost so you don’t have to do it all alone.” Another mentee, Stephanie Chan, says she was was worried about how her sexuality would affect her career. “I spoke mostly about my personal issues with my mentor,” she says. “I needed advice on how to come to terms with my sexuality in the workplace. My mentor told me I should apply to more international firms.” Herrera adds: “Sometimes when you’re young you just need someone with professional experience, who’s been through the ups and downs, to give you guidance.”

This past year, FINS has seen more than 80 people under the programme. And it isn’t just limited to HKU but universities around Hong Kong. The organisation’s most recent objective is trying to get the Savannah College of Art and Design – SCAD – to endorse the programme. “If they do,” says Herrera, “it will be the first time that the university management endorses this programme and not a student body organisation.” 

Herrera has not only been an essential part of FINS but also a standout leader in the LGBTI community, which is why he will be sorely missed as he moves away with his long-term partner in search of even greater pursuits. In his place comes new FINS director Philip Williams, who is hosting the organisation’s next event on June 23 at Bar Six in Central. Williams ensures us that he’ll maintain the consistency of the organisation after Herrera’s departure and even aims to recruit more members. “It’s an environment where people from all backgrounds can be comfortable to network,” he says. “It’s something that shouldn’t finish. It’s important to the community.”

Fruits in Suits Tue Jun 23, Bar Six, 6/F, Parekh House, 63 Wyndham St, Central; fruitsinsuits.com.hk.

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