Behind the times for gay rights
After the Social Welfare Department invites a gay conversion advocate to speak to social workers, Andrea Yu finds that members of the LGBT community say Hong Kong is far from discrimination-free
It’s not easy to live as a sexual minority,” says Tommy Jai, one of the founding members of Rainbow Action. The Hong Kong activist group was established in 1998 and, since then, it has become one of the city’s prominent voices against discrimination towards the gay and lesbian community.
Jai spoke to Time Out after gay activists last month protested against a controversial decision by Social Welfare Department officials to invite psychiatrist, Dr Hong Kwai-wah of the New Creation Association, to speak to social workers. Dr Hong, who claims he can ‘cure’ homosexuality, is chairman of the Christian organisation which aims to help people who have ‘experienced distress owing to unwanted same sex attractions’.
Naturally, when Jai got wind of the talk, he was shocked. “We were being discriminated [against],” he says. “It’s insulting to the gay community. Never before has a government organised a talk inviting speakers doing cure therapy.”
The incident adds fuel to a slow-burning fire, a simmering undercurrent within the LGBT community that they are being discriminated against by the Hong Kong government. Tommy Jai believes that homophobia is still a serious problem and he cites the omission of sexual orientation discrimination by the Equal Opportunities Commission as “unfair” towards the gay population.
“The government is reluctant to push it… that is how serious the discrimination is,” Jai says. “It seems like Hong Kong doesn’t want to protect the people that are being discriminated [against] because of their sexual orientation.”
Dr Hong’s seminar has become a major talking point in the LGBT community. Dr Ng Man Lun, a sexologist from the University of Hong Kong’s Family Institute, highlights a strong opposition to Dr Hong’s line of work. Dr Ng says: “Gay conversion therapy (or reparative therapy) is a treatment that is officially condemned by many leading psychology or psychiatry authority institutions all over the world.”
In a statement to Time Out, the SWD defended the action by saying that “we must state clearly that the talk was not to teach the participants about ‘gay conversion therapy’.” The statement included select principles from the SWD’s Code of Practice, such as “social workers respect the unique value and dignity of every human being irrespective of one’s ethnicity, colour …or sexual orientation.”
But Dr Hong’s involvement highlights how Hong Kong seems to be behind the times in becoming a discrimination-free city. Just a week after his talk, New York legalised gay marriage, demonstrating how far Hong Kong must go to catch up.
However Rainbow Action’s protests shed light on the many issues concerning the LGBT population. Failure to include discrimination against sexual minorities in the Equal Opportunities Ordinance is a sign of discrimination in the city, according to Jai.
Not offering public housing support to same-sex couples is another sign, says Jai. Currently, only heterosexual couples qualify for public housing support under the Hong Kong Housing Authority. So, in a very public ceremony in 2002, a gay and a lesbian couple swapped partners and married in order to be eligible for support. Jai himself was one of those married.
Other issues that Rainbow Action advocates include burial, same-sex marriage, filing for taxes and holding clinical rights during matters of life and death as same-sex couples.
Hopefully, with enough action, support and sham marriages, the government will one day listen to Rainbow Action’s voice and make Hong Kong a discrimination-free city.
To find out more about Rainbow Action, call Tommy Jai at 9791 4641.