No welcome for a great Hong Kong success

November 03, 2017 18:01
The Gay Games would demonstrate greater tolerance for sexual and ethnic minorities and display a more relaxed attitude towards the taboos that are still very much alive in Hong Kong. Photo: Gay Games

Disappointing hardly begins to describe the government's dismal response to the success of the Hong Kong team in securing the SAR as a venue for the 2022 global gay games. This is an event that will literally attract thousands of visitors, put Hong Kong in the international spotlight and enhance its image as an open and attractive city.

This award makes Hong Kong the first Asian city to host the games that have been held with great success in the United States, Canada, Germany and Australia.

So, what did officials say about this considerable achievement? The best they could manage was: "we note that the Federation of Gay Games has endorsed the bid", this statement contained not a word of welcome nor indeed of congratulations to the people who have been working entirely on a voluntary basis to get this thing off the ground.

If that were not bad enough the administration could not even guarantee that venues for the games would be made available to the organizers. Here is what the bureaucrats had to say on that front: "As regards the reservation of sports and cultural venues for the games, the relevant departments will handle any application in accordance with the established procedures."

Imagine how different the official response would have been if the Guangxi Knitting Club had decided to hold its annual knit-in here in Hong Kong. The administration would be using words like "warm welcome" and maybe "delighted". As for premises, the fine knitting folk would be able to take their pick and, you can be damn sure that they would not need to pay a cent for the privilege.

There is no mystery over what's going on here. The government that talks ceaselessly about the need to make Hong Kong an international city, attract more visitors and present a truly cosmopolitan face to the world is really nervous about doing something that is outside the confines of the trade and finance sectors and, if it can possibly help it, it wants all these initiatives to somehow tie in with President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road project or, failing that, it will settle for something that can be said to be part of the Greater Bay Area thingee.

The Gay Games does not fit into this narrow framework. However, it fits pretty well into the wider global mood of greater enthusiasm for diversity in all its forms. It would also demonstrate greater tolerance for minorities and display a more relaxed attitude towards the taboos that are still very much alive and kicking in Hong Kong.

On top of this is the personal distaste for anything associated with gay matters demonstrated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is far from shy in affirming her adherence to the Catholic Church, by which she means its most intolerant and homophobic elements. Even Pope Francis has demonstrated a far more open attitude on these matters but the Catholic Church in Hong Kong is among those who seem to believe that a relaxation of attitudes on sexual matters will be the beginning of the end.

Ms Lam is part of a religiously-inspired cabal at the top of the administration. Generally speaking, they try to hide their resistance to change under the guise of concern over "divisions in society" but this paper-thin excuse is badly fraying at the edges as the rest of the world has decided that a small bigoted minority cannot hold the rest of society to ransom. In every single nation where equal opportunities and rights have been extended to sexual minorities, what was initially regarded as a highly divisive issue has quickly faded from the realms of controversy and been replaced by widespread acceptance and a sense of wonder over what all the fuss was about.

The 2022 Gay Games is a wonderful opportunity for Hong Kong to present itself to the world as an open and truly cosmopolitan society but Ms Lam and her colleagues seem hell-bent on ensuring that nothing of the kind happens. They won't ban the games but they will do their level best to put obstacles in the way and will try to keep the whole event as low profile as possible.

Meanwhile, in case there was a scintilla of doubt as to the government’s antediluvian attitudes, the Department of Justice "celebrated" the games award by appealing against a landmark ruling which acknowledged the right of overseas same-sex partners working in Hong Kong to have the same access to residence as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Thank you, Rimsky Yuen and friends, for, yet again, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by telling the world that tolerance is not a virtue valued in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.