What the EOC's anti-discrimination survey means for the future of gay rights in Hong Kong


Arthur Tam finds out what a comprehensive citywide survey means for the future of gay rights

It’s time for change. A majority of Hongkongers believe that there needs to be an anti-discrimination law that protects LGBTI people. They believe it is absolutely essential to protect LGBTI people from being discriminated against in this city.

According to the cumbrously titled Study on Legislation Against Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status conducted by the Gender Research Centre of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and commissioned by the Equals Opportunity Commission (EOC), 55.7 percent of respondents agree that that LGBTI people need legal protection. Of that, 91.8 percent of those between 18-24 years of age support anti-discrimination legislation for LGBTI people, showing that LGBTI rights will probably be realised in the not too distant future – and those not on the side of progress, should probably get with the programme. “This study is the most comprehensive of its kind in Hong Kong,” said chairperson of the EOC, Dr York Chow in a recent press statement. “Given the shift in public opinion and attitudes, we believe it is time to accelerate the momentum of change and therefore the EOC calls on the government to conduct a citywide public consultation on the legislation as soon as possible. Discriminatory treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status has no place in an international city and business centre such as HK.” 

Back on November 7, 2012, a public consultation was denied by LegCo. Though 31 legislators approved it and only 25 opposed, under Hong Kong’s legislative system, there must be more than 50 percent approval from both geographical constituency members and functional constituency members, a requirement which was technically not met. Since then, discussion of gay rights has been left off the table. Now, with overwhelming evidence from this comprehensive study, opposing legislators will be forced into a corner. 

However, there are archaic, radically conservative factions in the city that still oppose modernity. Some 52 percent of those sharing religious views oppose the notion of an anti-discrimination law. Though there have been great efforts made in HK to convince religious practitioners that religious freedom and homosexuality can coexist, many still have their doubts.                                                           

First and foremost is the Catholic Church’s cardinal and Bishop of HK, John Tong, who tried to convince the public not to vote for politicians in favour of gay rights ahead of the district council elections that took place last year on November 22.

It’s disheartening to see individuals such as Tong going out of their way to deny equal rights to others while he enjoys his religious freedoms. “There are ways to balance the right to religious freedom while protecting against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status,” says Dr Suen Yui-tung, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at CUHK. “In Great Britain, the religious exemption provides that it is not discriminatory, in the provision of services and facilities by churches and other similar religious institutions.” Hence, religious institutions can continue the way they always have.

These arguments, however, fall on deaf ears, with the Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance (SODO) Concern Group convenor Roger Wong (Joshua Wong’s father) claiming that the EOC has produced a biased study. 

When we asked Wong if the purpose of his group is to protect the right to discriminate, he had this to say: “Not accurate, we don’t discriminate against others. We reckon voices of people from all walks of life should be respected in a diverse society, including the objection towards homosexuality. In principle, we are an anti-gay rights group.” We’re pretty sure there is hypocrisy in that statement.

 For now, according to Senior Corporate Communications Manager of the EOC, Sam Ho, the next step towards gay rights is to, “Ensure government officials are given appropriate guidelines to avoid discriminatory behaviour; expand support measures targeted at LGBTI people; and encourage dialogue and better understanding between different groups on the issue of LGBTI discrimination”.

The question now is how long do LGBTI people have to wait in order to be treated fairly and equally in Hong Kong? Hopefully, the results of the EOC survey will expedite the process and give HK a little more pride during these gloomy times.

For more info on the study check out eoc.org.hk


Add your comment