Exploring the EOC's new feasability study on LGBTI rights

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Arthur Tam looks into a new study which aims to tackle the burning issue of LGBTI rights in Hong Kong

Recent discussions over gay rights have been heated between LGBTI activists and radical conservatives. Debates on whether or not Hong Kong should have an anti-discrimination law to protect sexual minorities have been at the forefront of the city’s social issues of late, which one might have noticed with the presence of the rainbow flag at the July 1 protests. In response to the discord, the Equal Opportunities Commission, Gender Research Centre of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have commissioned a new study, The Feasibility Study on Legislating against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status, which aims to gather extensive data and opinions from the public to identify the extent and forms of discrimination experienced by the LGBTI community over the course of one year.

“This is a very special study,” said Dr Ferrick Chu, head of the policy and research unit of the EOC. “So far, the government has treated the issue in a superficial manner. This time we are giving them actual scenarios, case studies and a collection of public opinions so they can make a decision on something concrete.” The scenarios that Dr Chu refers to relate to all walks of life. “Say, for example, a teacher was terminated because of his or her sexual identity. We then present the situation to a diverse group and see if they agree or disagree with happened and why.”

The study has a few key elements. There are going to be three public forums called ‘Retrospect and Prospect’, ‘Interregional Comparison’ and ‘Fight or Flight?’. Each forum is going to have a facilitator and a collection of academic speakers, religious speakers, educators, parents and sexual minorities discussing LGBTI topics. Audiences can apply to participate in the forum through the official website, cuhk.edu.hk/research/sogistudy, but there is a quota. For the purposes of the study, a quarter of the audience will be made up of LGBTI NGO’s, a quarter of members from concern groups and half made up of the public. Translations are provided.

The first public forum, ‘Retrospect and Prospect’, was completed on Sunday June 9 at PolyU. After the event, deputy chairperson of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, solicitor Chong Yiu-kwong, commented on the importance of legislation. “In my view, there obviously needs to be legislation but the question is how to legislate and what model to adopt. The study is justified if it can answer this question,” he said. “However, if it is trying to answer whether or not we need legislation, then it is not necessary to have it because we should not be asking the majority about the protection of minorities. This is in accord with the UN, which has already criticised the Hong Kong government for not upholding the international obligation to grant protection for minorities and sexual minorities. The fears that the opposition express probably won’t change after this study but at least it will bring this issue into the minds of most of the public, who are neutral.”

Reverend Po Kam-cheung, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, surprised many by his seeming support of the study. ‘I think this study opens up further discussion and understanding, which is important,’ says Po. ‘There are a lot of people who are against the law because they think it will lead to gay marriage, which it doesn’t. So, if they know that, perhaps opinions can change.’

In conjunction with the forum, 20 focus groups have been arranged to gather public opinions – 10 focus groups for LGBTI people and 10 focus groups for the public. Each group will be made up of eight people from varying employment statuses, age groups, religions and other groups that represent HK society as a whole. The focus groups are running from July to October and are accepting applicants through a special website (see below). Participants are compensated with $250.

Come next June, the issue on anti-discrimination rights for the LGBTI community will again be brought to LegCo for discussion. Hopefully, with the findings from the study, legislators are going to find it difficult to ignore the issue and perhaps some progress can be made.

The Feasibility Study
For more info on the study, see cuhk.edu.hk/research/sogistudy. To apply to take part in the focus groups, see bit.ly/HK-LGBTI-focusgroup. Public forums take place at Hong Kong Central Library on Sat Aug 30 and CUHK on Sat Sep 27.

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