The conservative case for Gay Games

June 17, 2021 09:19

There is a dangerous temptation amongst some to frame conservative family values as ostensibly incompatible with the pursuit of any and all agenda or events deemed to be “progressive” in kind.

An example here could well be the 2022 Gay Games, which have drawn the ire and flak from select legislators, over the government’s alleged endorsement of the values it espouses; the nature of the Games, and the fact that Hong Kong is apparently “yet to be ready” for one of the largest sporting events in the world.

So here’s an alternative take. In the following, I make the “conservative” case for Gay Games – a case that conservatives should well be open to embracing, for it is undergirded by the very principles that underpin modern conservatism. The Gay Games should be held and supported – to the extent that it does not impose an excess burden upon Hong Kong’s taxation and infrastructure (which it is highly unlikely to), on three distinct grounds (perfectly in line with social and economic conservatism):

1) The Gay Games will maximise Hong Kong’s ability to capitalise upon its distinctive cultural comparative advantage;
2) The Games comprise an association of entirely consensual and voluntary individuals – forming a compact that the government ought to respect; it does
3) The Games are not promoting LGBTQIA+-specific values – it merely advocates values of equality and dignity, virtues that should and very well be embraced by each and every devout Christian in the city.

Firstly, there is little more “Hong Kong-esque” and “conservative” in nature than capitalism. Making use of our endowments and wherewithal to make some desperately needed dollar – is deeply engrained in our ethos. Here’s the thing – the Gay Games are likely to bring in a substantial volume of tourists and economic revenue, which would in turn be instrumental in rejuvenating Hong Kong’s deeply frayed and arguably broken economic fabric. Additionally, the event will enable our city to build upon our existing reputation as a relatively liberal (in the region) hub for Western expats and tourists – and draw in individuals who are indeed making relocation decisions on the basis of the extent to which they are compatible with the local culture. The symbolic value of hosting the Games – and having a government that is at least somewhat open to the ideals and values espoused by the Games – far exceeds the net monetary gains associated with the event itself. It’s high time that conservatives, both in the economic and social sense, reckon with the enormous economic losses that would be inflicted, were the Games not to go ahead.

Secondly, if one is an economic or cultural libertarian, presumably, one should be open to the possibility and end-results of individuals forming mutually consensual associations and hosting events with only voluntary, willing participants – this is precisely what the Gay Games are about! It involves no heavy-handed edits to the curriculum; it doesn’t require schoolkids and university students to sing any “Gay Anthems”; nor does it require each and every citizen to become ardent advocates of LGBTQIA+ equality. Indeed, one of the most prominent features of the Gay Games is its eponymous restrictions to solely individuals who are from the LGBTQIA+ movement – it does not seek to compel non-LGBTQIA+ individuals to attend, though they are most certainly welcome.

Now, the skeptic may object as such: presumably, it’s one thing to grant that individuals should be permitted to form voluntary associations with one another; it’s another to say that the government should “endorse” such associations. The principle of liberal neutrality entails that the government ought to remain impartial over comprehensive doctrines and substantive values – enabling the organisers to host the Games would violate that.

This is a misguided objection. First, there is a vast difference between active support and mere facilitation. The government facilitates adherents of “minority” religions by granting them the right to form associations and have taxes waived on conditions of their religious identities. The state also grants licenses to recreational venues – e.g. mahjong parlours – for them to operate, provided that they comply with the law. The government is not – save from by an extensive stretch of imagination – a supporter of mahjong parlours and minority religions. Yet such activities are still tolerated and facilitated by the government, on grounds that individual citizens have the right to pursue these ends without others’ interference. Similarly, gay athletes’ rights to participate in a well-convened and world-renowned international event should and must be recognised; the government owes it to them to provide them with the minimal operating capacities.

Second, recognise that the organisers are not calling for active subsidies and financial support from the government. The HKSAR government allocates a substantial volume of capital to backing the activities of grassroots community associations (via the Home Affairs Bureau). It also devotes substantial volumes of the public budget to public relations (PR) and media events in celebration of its own “successes”. Why is it the case that we selectively apply requirements of neutrality to ostensibly “controversial” (read, potentially “un-PC”) events, such as the Gay Games, without also adhering to the same requirements when it comes to the government’s image and involvement in other sectors? This strikes me as a rather egregious case of double standards.

Finally, the Gay Games are not an event that is advocating marriage equality for all (even though that certainly would be an eminently reasonable and just cause for anyone to support). It does not seek, in any shape or form, changes to our city’s laws, policies, or political scene. It does not infringe upon the sovereignty of any actor – imaginary, imagined, or actual. It seeks merely to demonstrate that Hong Kong can and should remain a pluralistic city, open to folks from all walks of life and sexual orientations. The conservative position is perfectly compatible with the Games – heterosexual individuals are not compelled to accept gay marriage; they are only asked, here, to accept the fact that an international sporting event is held in Hong Kong, by and organised for individuals whose personal choices differ from theirs. Is this too much to ask?

Let’s be very clear here. The upshot is not that the Gay Games must be held – it’s instead that the objections touted by conservatives in the city do not amount to a cogent, logical case.

-- Contact us at [email protected]

Assistant Professor, HKU