“The majority of [LGBT] people are facing a very hostile climate,” says Reggie Ho. As the spokesperson for Hong Kong’s International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), Ho hopes that more Hongkongers will take a public stance against this hostility. “This isn’t right, we shouldn’t be putting up with this,” says Ho, who is also actively involved in numerous other LGBT organizations in the city, including the Tongzhi Literary Group.
IDAHO is recognised globally every May 17, marking the day in 1990 that homosexuality was no longer considered a disease (as classified by the World Health Organization). It functions as a sober counterpoint to events like Pride, which celebrates sexual diversity. Instead, IDAHO focuses on marginalisation, addressing topics like religious oppression and discriminatory laws.
Hong Kong’s own IDAHO is now in its 7th installment. This year’s agenda includes speeches from Lam Woon, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and Hong Kong legislator Cyd Ho as well as a “special performance” (the details of which are currently under lock and key). However, the day’s real emphasis is on public participation. “I think it’s important for stories to be told,” says Ho, explaining that IDAHO will feature a podium allowing for an open discussion of homophobia and the personal suffering it causes. “We hope to get as many people as possible to talk… I think that’s the most relevant thing.”
Though committed to maintaining a serious tone, organisers are interested in increasing the event’s accessibility and expanding its audience with activities like a wishing tree, where the public can hang prayers and Polaroid snaps. “You want the event to have elements which people can immediately jump into,” Ho says. “Last year, we wanted to make it more solemn and this year we want people to not feel intimidated.”
Indeed, IDAHO 2010 event was a subdued affair. Taking place after hours in Central, it drew an intimate crowd. But this year, by relocating to the bustling heart of Causeway Bay and using “Born This Way” as its theme (a nod to the gay icon Lady Gaga), organisers hope to make a more boisterous statement.
According to Ho, it’s all about building momentum, which in turn allows for more leverage in legal reforms and ensures better rights for homosexuals. And despite the long road ahead, there is reason to have hope. Remembering Hong Kong’s first IDAHO, when shy participants showed up in masks to remain anonymous, Ho is astounded at how quickly things have progressed. Now, Ho says, “When you go to IDAHO, you see people who want to be there and know what it’s about.” He’s even spotted IDAHO participants bringing their parents along to attend. Says Ho: “Five years ago, had you told me that parents were going to show up, I would have said ‘Wow you have to be joking’...That’s certainly a big triumph”. Sean Gilbert