Why is the govt so determined to maintain LGBT discrimination?

July 13, 2018 17:22
A file picture shows people marching with a banner with rainbow colors during the annual pride parade in Hong Kong in support of LGBT rights. Credit: Reuters

Why is the government so determined to ensure that sexual orientation discrimination is sustained in Hong Kong?

It lavishes public funds on court cases aimed at upholding its right to sustain discriminatory policies, and when legal victories are declared, is reluctant to accept the verdicts. It has even suppressed the open display in libraries of children’s books with so-called ‘gay themes’.

It makes every effort to ensure that discriminatory legislation remains on the statute books and has resolutely refused, for the first time in history, to offer support for an international event likely to attract thousands of visitors and earn lots of money for Hong Kong.

The event in question is, of course, the Gay Games 2020, which the SAR won the right to host against stiff competition. Unlike any other truly international event hosted in Hong Kong, this one is not receiving a scintilla of official support; indeed the prospect of official obstruction looms.

Other governments are lukewarm on the subject of sexual orientation but they recognize that public attitudes have shifted considerably and so tend to adopt a more neutral stance on the matter.

Not so the Hong Kong government which is homophobic to a worrying degree (its attitudes to other forms of sexual orientation are less visible but no genius is required to guess that the stance toward smaller minority LGBT orientations is likely to be even worse).

In an unguarded moment when questioned on this issue at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club last year,  Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she had difficulties with giving greater rights to gay people because she was worried what her Bishop would say.

This is really interesting because Ms Lam is a practicing Catholic and appears to be saying that her church, which reports to its center in Rome, should be the determinant when considering matters of this kind. Can this be the same Lam who routinely deplores ‘foreign meddling’ in Hong Kong’s affairs?

The rationale for official resistance to change seems to revolve around claims that Hong Kong upholds traditional values and that this is a conservative society where the definition of marriage is something set in stone. In fact, the current definition only dates back to the 1970s; previously polygamy was recognized as being legitimate.

Despite claims of majority support for LGTB bigotry recent evidence from a Chinese University opinion poll shows that attitudes are rapidly changing and that a big majority of respondents backed the introduction of legislation to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. A smaller majority, but nonetheless a majority, also exists for the introduction of gay marriage.

Sometimes the bigot's arguments go beyond farcical levels. Liberal Party District Councilor Dominic Lee, for example, claimed at a recent forum that legalizing same-sex marriage in parts of the United States had led to an increase in the number of people who say they are LGBT.

My-oh-my, what does this mean? Does it mean that on hearing of a change in the law people rush to change their sexual orientation? Or maybe it simply means that in a more open environment more people feel comfortable with declaring the nature of their sexuality.

It is hard to maintain patience with the infantile level of the anti-gay lobby’s arguments, perhaps most vividly seen in the recent library books saga where it was seriously maintained that if a child read a book containing LGBT characters it would influence them to follow suit. It is barely worth even responding to this kind of nonsense.

Yet silence is also not an option because bigotry and intolerance have wider ramifications not just for the people who are subject to this malevolence but also for the wider society that is tainted and damaged by harboring prejudice of this kind.

If logic cannot win, how about trying a bit of hardheaded pragmatism? The reason that many leading business organizations lent their support to the successful case in which two lesbians appealed against the Immigration Department’s denial of a spouse visa to one of the partners was because, as international companies, they saw how damaging this was to their ability to recruit talented people.

Also, they were keen to publicly demonstrate that they were open-minded and did not want to be associated with the antediluvian attitudes of the Hong Kong government because it is bad for business.

Change will eventually come in Hong Kong; the only question is how long it will take and how damaging the struggle for reform will be to the SAR's reputation.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author